Vanessa Gebbie is Gozzi the Gunsmith

The Day of the Jackal

Writer Vanessa Gebbie spent much of her childhood in Wales, and can still sing hymns and swear in Welsh. Her debut novel The Coward’s Tale tells of an unlikely, but moving friendship between a young boy and a beggar-storyteller, whose tales recount the interlinked histories of the inhabitants of a small mining community before and after a tragic mining accident. EITHNE FARRY

Please can you wave your wand and turn me into Gozzi the Gunsmith in the original and never-to-be-surpassed 1973 film The Day of the Jackal (based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth) as played by the late great Cyril Cusack? Thank you.

I now have a chilling detachment, which will be interpreted by the majority as mildness, in the assumption that I, a somewhat benign-looking character, must be quite harmless. I will speak quietly, and cultivate mannerisms that betray this detachment in a calculated masking of my true character, fuelled by a constant quest for perfection, and unfettered by the weight of anyone’s moral code but my own. And my moral code is indeed unique.

Thank you for resurrecting my extraordinary creative powers, my ability to craft something complex but utterly perfect, following no templates. I can of course think laterally – a useful skill indeed – and I trust nobody. I might therefore borrow something from the original work by Mr Forsyth, if you are in agreement, and leave incriminating evidence with my lawyer following any suspicious interactions – I will of course ensure anyone who double-crosses me regrets it for a very long time. Oh yes. But I will do it so nicely, possibly wearing a black armband in your memory…

I shall speak a little like a medical specialist faced with a complex problem, seeking the correct diagnosis. I require precise information, so I will ask questions viz: ‘Over what range will you fire?’ ‘Will you go for a chest or head shot?’ and most indicative of all of my own lack of class, ‘Will the gentleman be moving?’

I shall be on screen for not many minutes. After which you may not like me, but you will respect me for my utter professionalism. Come to think of it, you may well know me better than I know myself.

The Coward’s Tale is published by Bloomsbury.

Vanessa Gebbie

Take Shelter: Interview with Michael Shannon

Take Shelter

Format: Cinema

Date: 25 November 2011

Venue: Key cities

Distributor: The Works

Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Cast: Michael Shannon, Jessica Chastai, Shea Whigham

USA 2011

120 mins

Michael Shannon is Curtis LaForche, a caring family man and reliable construction worker, who slowly loses touch with reality as he deals with the panic that arises from a series of terrifying dreams in writer-director Jeff Nichols’s remarkable second feature Take Shelter. The film is a thrilling, genre-twisting and masterfully crafted drama, sensitively tackling what could have been lurid material in other hands, and it seems that Shannon and Nichols in their second collaboration since Shotgun Stories (2007) have only grown closer as a formidable director/actor team. What really makes this film, however, is its subtle ambiguity. Curtis’s dreams are either forebodings of an apocalyptic storm coming in, or the first symptoms of the same life-destroying paranoid schizophrenia his mother has suffered since he was a kid. In a standout performance, and supported by an equally convincing Jessica Chastain as the caring wife who is desperate to understand what is happening to her husband, Shannon portrays Curtis’s inner struggle with powerful conviction. For his part, Nichols manages not only to convey a sense of the dizzying confusion and nerve-racking tension that drive Curtis to desperate action but to build up to a climax that, depending on interpretation, is as devastating as it is peaceful.

Pamela Jahn took part in a round table interview at the London Film Festival in October 2011 where Michael Shannon talked about what drew him to the project, the difference between anxiety and mental illness, and the key to being an imaginative actor.

Q: Can you tell us a little more about what attracted you to the part in Take Shelter?

MS: I worked with Jeff [Nichols] on Shotgun Stories, which was his first movie, and I really think he is unique. I can’t think of any other young director in America today who is as focused as he is and who has as distinctive a vision as he has. He showed me the script and I could relate to the material because I was having similar experiences to Curtis in that it is a story about a young father who is having anxieties about trying to protect his family and, at that point, I was starting a family myself. Obviously it wasn’t to the extent that Curtis has in the movie – I didn’t have any dreams about storms. But anybody who starts a family would have some empathy for what Curtis is going through. Other things were similar as well in that Curtis’s father had just passed away and my father had just passed away. So there was some synchronicity between what Curtis was going through and some experiences I was having in my own life, and that’s what drew me to it.

Do you know whether Nichols wrote the part with you in mind?

No, he absolutely did not have me in mind. Jeff wrote this story regardless of anything. It was a very personal story for him. He was writing about some things he was going through himself. It just happened that we were both having similar experiences. It’s funny because he didn’t intend to do a very topical movie, in the way that there are a lot of other films about people sensing an apocalypse, or the end of the world, that deal with it more directly. For Jeff, the genesis of it was all very personal.

How much research did you do for your role? Did you delve into personality disorder and mental illness?

No. I didn’t think about mental illness at all. To me this isn’t a film about mental illness. I mean mental illness is on the spectrum of possibilities because I think in our culture we’re all very aware of it and we’ve been instructed to be on the lookout for it. But I don’t ultimately think that this is what Curtis is experiencing. I have heard Jeff saying that the whole storyline is not necessarily a red herring because that would be manipulative, but that it is just not what the film is about. I don’t think anxiety is a mental illness. Anxiety is healthy. I think that people who don’t have any anxiety about anything are strange. I also didn’t want to know more about what Curtis was going through than Curtis did, because I think what’s happening to him is a mystery to him as much as to everyone around him. Part of the journey of the film is him trying to figure out what’s happening there, and I simply didn’t want to be ahead of him.

The film becomes even more interesting on second viewing when you have the ending in mind. Where you always very aware of the ending throughout the process of shooting?

I was very aware of the ending. It was actually one of the first things that Jeff thought of when writing the script. It wasn’t something that he tagged on at the end of the process, it was one of the original thoughts that he had for making this film. But personally I think the ending is a bit tricky. I think there is a big shift in tone in the movie, it alternates between a super-realistic, blue-collar, gritty everyday Americana slice of life and a very poetic and lyrical element. I think this works because it’s a film about dreams and the dreams are establishing a duality of consciousness, your waking life and your dream life. And the end of the film, to me, is not necessarily meant to be taken literally, and it’s not necessarily there to say that Curtis was right or Curtis was wrong. This is not the point of it, because the fact of the matter is that the world is in the process of destruction. That’s not open for discussion, at least not in the way I look at it. Who could argue against that? It’s more about how you deal with it. And the important thing about the end is that the family is together. That’s the difference between the beginning and the end of the movie. In the beginning of the film, you’re seeing a man standing in his car park looking up at the sky all by himself, and in the end he is standing there with his family, he is not by himself anymore.

In a weird, twisted way it almost seems like a happy ending.

Yes, I mean, that’s the way Jeff describes it. I can’t debate it in the same way that he can because it’s ultimately his vision. I only have my own interpretation of it, but he always said he sees it as a hopeful ending.

You and Nichols seem to make a very good team. You seem to trust and respect each other very much. Did you have any influence on the development of the film at any point while shooting it, or did you totally trust Nichols in what he was doing and wanted to achieve with the film?

Jeff is very thorough when he writes. When Jeff shows up he knows what he wants to do and you can’t really surprise him with a question because he’s considered every angle. He is very rigorous in his writing style and with himself. So, it wasn’t like he was asking, ‘So Mike, what do you want to do with this here’ or ‘What do you think should happen there?’ He had it all pretty well thought out, and I think the reason we are good together is because I can tell where he is going with something. It’s kind of an unspoken understanding that we have. And I really trust Jeff visually now that I’ve worked with him twice. Each time I see the film I am really impressed with the way it looks. Jeff is actually very old-fashioned, for example, he insists on shooting on film. He shot his first film 35mm anamorphic, his entire budget was just for film stock, so he basically had to get everything else for free.

So there wasn’t much of a rehearsal period before the shoot this time either?

No, because I had just finished working on the first season of Boardwalk Empire on a Friday, and on the Monday I was shooting Take Shelter. We shot just outside of Cleveland, Ohio, and I met Jessica [Chastain] for the first time in my life on the Saturday, so we had one day to hang out and get to know each other and then Monday morning we were shooting. So I was really lucky that it was someone as brilliant as Jessica, because if there had been any trepidation on the part of the woman playing Samantha, if there had been any fear there, I don’t know if we would have been able to pull it off. But Jessica just leaps into things, she’s fearless, so it really made a huge difference.

How would you describe your approach to acting?

It’s very instinctual. I don’t like to talk too much about something before I do it because I think it takes the spontaneity out of it. For me, the most important thing is to make sure that whatever is exciting or interesting about a scene happens in front of the camera and not off camera. The first time I worked with Jeff on Shotgun Stories, Jeff and I showed up and then the cast showed up and Jeff was confiding in me because, at that time, I had the most credits. A lot of the other people where immature and non-professional actors, or not even actors at all. So Jeff said to me, ‘What shall we do, shall we rehearse?’, and I said, ‘Don’t do anything, because probably the most exciting things these people are going to do will be the first time they do it. And the more you are trying to talk about it and make sure everybody understands everything the less likely it is that something spontaneous is going to happen’. So, that’s kind of my approach. I have a very fertile imagination. When I read things, I have a vision that comes to me, that’s just my imagination. It’s very childlike though, it’s not super-sophisticated. Children can do this, you give them the story and they can figure it out for themselves. And I think the struggle is, more than anything, to hold on to this ability and not lose it. Not to get sullied by the business of it all.

The Deep Blue Sea: Interview with Terence Davies

The Deep Blue Sea

Format: Cinema

Date: 25 November 2011

Venue: Nationwide

Distributor: Artificial Eye

Director: Terence Davies

Writer: Terence Davies

Based on the play by Terence Rattigan

Cast: Rachel Weisz, Tom Hiddleston, Simon Russell Beale

USA/UK 2011

98 mins

A visually sumptuous adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play, which offered a sustained assault on English middle-class values, Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea consolidates the director’s triumphant return to filmmaking following his rapturously received tone poem Of Time and the City. Set in a post-war Britain suffering a crisis of identity and cultural and economic decline, the film continues the director’s interest in class, morality and the position of women in patriarchal society. Inspired by the melodramas much loved by the director, the film is powered by a tour de force performance from Rachel Weisz, and its sensory beauty is heightened by a characteristically adroit use of music.

Jason Wood talked to Terence Davies during the London Film Festival about British society in the 1950s, the value of restraint, true love and the nature of memory.

Jason Wood: How did you come to adapt Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea and did you have any hesitation in accepting the challenge of bringing the play to the screen?

Terence Davies: I had never adapted a play but Sean O’Connor, one of the producers, asked me if I would like to adapt a Rattigan work. I looked at the whole Rattigan canon and told Sean that I might be able to do something with The Deep Blue Sea. I was a bit worried because the way Rattigan works is to put all the exposition in Act 1. I personally don’t like that but I, of course, respect that this is Rattigan’s style. I did a very tentative first draft and Adam Brody of the Rattigan Trust to my complete amazement suggested that I be more radical with it.

I had always maintained that it had to be shot from Hester’s point of view, so most of the exposition had to go because if she is not privy to a conversation then we can’t have it. Once everyone agreed on that I thought, ‘Yes. I think I can do it’. The fact that there was so much talk was a real worry at first, and of course that is one of the major differences between theatre and film. With theatre you have to explain everything. With film you can just show it.

There are numerous parallels with your work: the notion of outsiders, the position of women in a repressed society and 1950s Britain. Why do these subjects hold such a fascination for you?

I grew up in the 50s so I know what it was like, and what it felt like. When you are growing up, and I think this is true of all children, you absorb a lot, and that includes the social mores. In the 50s you did as you were told. Everybody in authority was believed and obeyed without question. My mother was a great survivor and a woman of great love and tenderness. She was strong, not hard. I loved my brothers but with three sisters and their girlfriends I simply grew up with women. I also grew up with the romantic films of the period, All That Heaven Allows, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, Magnificent Obsession. They all had women as their central characters. Focusing on women characters always came very naturally to me.

What I certainly didn’t want to do with Hester was to make her seem either a victim or clinging in a possessive way. I knew that we had to show a woman who is in many ways extremely conventional doing something extraordinarily unconventional. Hester leaves her husband, and women didn’t do that in the 1950s, even if they had a bad marriage, like my mother’s. Hester finds sex at 40 and it overwhelms her. She makes a number of social faux pas that people may not know now. For example it was not the done thing to argue in public. Even working-class people didn’t argue in public.

The real revelation about reading the play umpteen times was that the subtext is love. Each person wants a kind of love from the other that simply cannot be given or reciprocated. At the end Hester experiences true love. True love is to say to someone that you adore more than life ‘If you are really better off without me then I let you go’.

Rattigan’s play deals with passion and sex but was of course very much restricted by what it could show because of the time in which it was written. We live in less morally restrictive times so I wondered how that affected your approach in this regard.

There is something very interesting about being sexually repressed. I am homosexual and that was illegal, but even heterosexual sex, you just never saw it. You might see a film such as Passport to Shame, where Odile Versois takes her blouse off, but that was about it. There is something about restraint, and not just sexual restraint, that we have lost in this country. Restraint can be extraordinarily moving. I did want to show Hester and Freddie in bed but I wanted it to be erotic rather than purely sexual. For me it was about the nature of flesh against cloth and I think that is far more sensual. I show the post-coital moments of soft greys and soft blues against Hester’s hands that are wearing red nail varnish. For me this is much more interesting than simply showing people thrusting away at each other. It is rather like violence. If you don’t show very much it is always far more shocking. People always seem to remember the scene where the mother in Distant Voices, Still Lives is beaten as being incredibly shocking but if you watch it again it actually isn’t. It is implied.

What aesthetic choices did you make to represent the period on screen? Sean O’Connor has described it as ‘an anti-period film’ and yet there is a very potent visual texture. The palette is largely autumnal but there are also astonishing splashes of colour. I know that Vermeer is a big influence.

Vermeer is possibly the greatest influence. I could look at his paintings forever and never get bored. I just love the idea of someone at a window, not necessarily doing anything.

When I was growing up you hardly saw any primary colours. After the war everything was faded. Well kept, but shabby. Colours were generally autumnal. Sometimes you might see a splash of red.

You play with linearity and memory. I think this is another key characteristic of your work.

It struck me as a very obvious approach. If we are going to see things from Hester’s point of view it makes sense to start with Hester’s attempted suicide as this seems the smartest way to reveal how she got there. Memory works in a cyclical way and by emotional association. It is not a linear narrative. Once you set up the idea that this is not linear, when you have informed your audience that we are going to be moving in and out of linear time, it is really relatively easy.

I am fascinated by time and by the nature of time. It is why I am so beholden to The Four Quartets. The nature of time, as well as our perception of it, is one of the central themes of The Four Quartets. I also love the use of time in Letter from an Unknown Woman, one of the greatest films about the subject of unrequited love. Despite the way Ophüls uses time you always know exactly where you are.

As with all of your work music plays an incredibly important role in the film. Can you discuss your use of Samuel Barber and the popular music of the time?

I have known the Barber Violin Concerto for a long time and I think it is one of the great violin concertos. I knew it was right for this film. The reason why I chose ‘You Belong to Me’ was because in the 50s there was a programme on the radio at 12 o’clock called Family Favourites. This was for all the British forces abroad sending their requests home, and equally people in Britain sending their requests to their loved ones in the armed forces overseas. We were the only Catholics in our street so we’d get up early for mass, come home, have something to eat and switch on the radio at 12 o’clock. It was a lovely warm summer morning on one particular day I’ll never forget. I went and sat out on the front step. There were doors and windows open and everybody was listening to the same programme and ‘You Belong to Me’ was playing. It struck me as perfect for this film.

When we last spoke you had returned to filmmaking with Of Time and the City. Do you now feel more able to make films on a regular basis? There hasn’t been the long hiatus you previously endured.

I am genuinely quite surprised at the response that has been given to me. Before Of Time and the City I didn’t work for eight years and I thought, ‘That’s it. It’s over now’. I never thought I would get a second chance. To be asked to close the London Film Festival with The Deep Blue Sea was such an honour. I kept thinking somebody was going to come up and say, ‘We’re very sorry. We’ve made a mistake. It’s the OTHER Terence Davies’.

Interview by Jason Wood

Underwater Love: Interview with Stereo Total

Underwater Love

Format: DVD

Release date: 21 November 2011

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Shinji Imaoka

Writers: Shinji Imaoka, Fumio Moriya

Original title: Onna no kappa

Cast: Sawa Masaki, Yoshirô Umezawa, Ai Narita

Japan 2011

87 mins

Stereo Total are a playful, madly eclectic duo, who like synth pop, new wave and electronica, and Françoise Hardy and Jacques Dutronc. They are proud of the fact that even though they’ve made a lot of records ‘they all sound the same’ and they ‘have made so little progress’.

For a person who hasn’t had a huge amount of sleep in the past few days, Brezel Göring, one half of Stereo Total, is brimming over with enthusiasm for their latest project, the film score of Underwater Love, directed by Shinji Imaoka. Described by an equally exuberant Christopher Doyle (In the Mood for Love, Chungking Express), who was the cinematographer on this fast-paced project, as a musical comedy with sex and dancing, Underwater Love is a pink film – soft-core porn – filmed in five and a half days (it’s usually five for a pink film, but Doyle was given a little leeway) and tells the story of Asuka (Sawa Masaki), who’s about to marry her boring boyfriend but has an erotic romance with a water spirit instead. Producer Stephan Holl approached the duo, and they couldn’t turn the chance of writing their first film score down. Göring says: ‘He connected all the loose ends, chased down all these people who would never have thought of being involved in such a project and got them to do it. And I’m always excited about working on things which are different.’

Stereo Total, who ‘more or less make music that [they] want to listen to’ had no idea what a pink film was, so Holl sent over a pile of DVDs and he and Françoise Cactus, the other half of the band, sat down and watched them. It was a bit of an eye-opener. ‘I was really insistent that I didn’t want to make music for a movie where young girls aren’t treated well, because, you know, in some Japanese movies that’s really common, they can be really violent, but I thought this was funny and original. I loved the girl with the big tits, with the sunburn (another love interest of the water spirit), and the hippy God of Death was fun.’

The filming may have been speedy, but the musical part took a little longer. ‘Three years, I think,’ says Göring. ‘We got the storyboard and then we did the music and then the singing.’ Cactus sings the lyrics in Japanese: ‘I know that I have a French accent when I speak, so I was a bit worried about that, but I had a Japanese teacher and she told me how to pronounce the words, and everybody seemed to think it was funny.’ Göring had finished the music ‘and then the whole script was re-written…’

He wrote more music than was used, cut out background stuff, and had a little go at making the music accompanying the sex scenes ironic. He grappled with the fact that some of the cinematography veers from the incredibly sophisticated and atmospheric to the resolutely lo-fi, and fought against the idea that most directors want the score to sound like Schubert. ‘I was surprised that so much of our music ended up in the movie, it was so exciting. As a band we have such a dilettante, un-academic, anti-professional approach, we always feel that’s it’s going to be wrong, if things are going right from the start. We like uncontrollable situations like this.’

Eithne Farry

Black Rain: Music for the End of Time

Black Rain

Some three minutes of Shôhei Imamura’s Black Rain (1989) have elapsed before the first entrance of Toru Takemitsu’s original score. The credits have rolled, the principal characters and the setting of the first act – Hiroshima, August 1945 – have been introduced. Within only 30 seconds of the creeping entrance of the violins, the blinding flash of white heat has burst upon the frame. So it is perhaps appropriate that one of the chief influences on Takemitsu’s music here is Olivier Messiaen, the composer of the Quartet for the End of Time.

Later, this music becomes the theme of the characters’ scarred memories of that day, as they alternately piece together and try to subdue their memories of the disaster. The strings drift in like a dark cloud. Languorous pedal notes provide a bed for waves of harsh Second Viennese School dissonances that crash intermittently upon shores of the tenderest harmony.

Takemitsu was a great lover of cinema who scored around a hundred films, including for such directors as Kurosawa (Dodes’ka-den, Ran), Ôshima (The Ceremony, Dear Summer Sister, Empire of Passion), and Teshigahara (Pitfall, Woman of the Dunes, The Face of Another). Takemitsu was born in 1930 and conscripted at the age of 14, and his music was founded at a young age on a rejection of Japanese tradition. He developed instead an early interest in the possibility of electronically generated music (roughly contemporaneously with Pierre Schaeffer in France). It was only through an encounter with the music and ideas of John Cage in the 1950s that he came to look again at, and re-evaluate, the music of his own country.

His work first came to international attention after Igor Stravinsky chanced upon his Requiem for Strings in 1957 – at around the same time that he first started composing film scores. The Requiem had itself been written on the occasion of the death of film composer Fumio Hayasaka, who had worked extensively with Kurosawa and Mizoguchi. After Stravinsky’s enthusiastic championing, commissions soon followed from America. By the time of his involvement in the 1970 Osaka Expo, he was firmly established as one of the world’s leading avant-garde composers, but this seems to have scarcely slowed the pace of his cinematic work. In many respects, the funereal music of Black Rain signals a return to the rich swelling tones of the Requiem that first brought him to world attention.

Considering it is the work of a former associate of John Cage, it seems overly reductive to think of Black Rain‘s music as no more than what can be read from notes on a page. The Spartan use of Takemitsu’s score only serves to give it power. The silences that surround it bring us close to his notoriously difficult-to-define concept of ma, which, related to Cage’s interest in the impossibility of silence, would be something like a waiting for sound to become silence, the void of empty space between notes. Throughout the film there is a lively sonorous bed of chirruping crickets and birds, and the fall of rain.

For former soldier Yuichi (played by Keisuke Ishida), the sound of a passing car engine is the trigger for a recurrent attack of post-traumatic stress syndrome. For other characters, the sound of their trauma is more internal, and that is the role taken by Takemitsu’s string music. The connection between the two, between the (diegetic, non-musical) sound that triggers Yuichi’s attacks and the (non-diegetic, musical) sound triggered by the memories of the other characters vividly brings to attention the relationship between these two sonic registers. The gap between the two, between the non-silence of the post-apocalypse and the dream-music of the falling bomb, might serve as a provisional definition of ma.

Robert Barry

A Special Klaus Kinski Film Jukebox by Raechel Leigh Carter

Raechel Leigh Carter

Raechel Leigh Carter fronted mid-90s pop band Baby Birkin, a band styled around the works of Serge Gainsbourg and his muse Jane Birkin (plus the occasional Françoise Hardy, France Gall and Brigitte Bardot song), who released a Russell Senior-produced album on Dishy as well as numerous singles. Raechel also contributed vocals to Mike Alway’s faux-psych band Sunshine Day and to cult band Piano Magic. A Klaus Kinski obsessive, she now runs the Du Dumme Sau blog that, even if you’re not a particular fan of Klaus, is very entertaining and will surely lead to a hunt for the featured films. Over to Raechel… Delia Sparrer

Most people remember Klaus Kinski solely for his five collaborations with Werner Herzog and there’s a tendency to write off the rest of his film work; considering that he acted in between 100 and 200 films (no one really knows the exact number), that’s a lot of work to write off. And while there’s a lot of trash among his filmography, if you look closely (and I do) there are quite a few gems there too. Here’s ten lesser known Klaus Kinski films I’d recommend:

1. Kinski Paganini (1989)
Klaus directed himself in this film, which was his final film before he died in 1991. Klaus had an affinity with the virtuoso ‘devil violinist’ Niccol&#242 Paganini and was driven to create this movie, which he wrote, directed and starred in. There’s genius, there’s sex, there’s hero-worship, there’s craziness. Klaus proved Werner Herzog wrong by filming a script that Herzog had deemed to be ‘unfilmable’ and making it into a stylish and very personal work of art.

2. The Great Silence (1968)
This is a fabulous Italian Western, which I can’t recommend enough. Klaus plays Loco, a bounty killer looking for outlaws in the Nevada mountains, who finds himself being pursued by a mute gunman (il grande silenzio) looking for revenge. The path is paved with corpses. See this film now!

3. Footprints on the Moon (1975)
Florinda Bolkan’s character Alice suffers from memory loss, nightmares about a film called Footprints on the Moon and feelings of paranoia and persecution. Klaus plays the bad Professor Blackmann, who, while although little seen, has a lot to do with Alice’s state of mind. There’s beautiful cinematography, a great soundtrack and the perfect cast in this incredibly stylish thriller.

4. Lifespan (1975)
Klaus, the mysterious ‘Swiss Man’, wants to live forever so he engages a young scientist to find a ‘cure for ageing’ – along the way there are a few dead OAPs left behind. Even though Tina Aumont’s clothes fall off at the drop of a hat (she engages in a bit of bondage with Hiram Keller and has a kinky sex scene with Klaus, who is wearing a mask that was used in 1937 when Faust was performed for the Nazis…), this film has substance and a lot of style and gives you plenty to think about.

5. Nosferatu in Venice (1988)
In this kind of unofficial sequel to Herzog’s Nosferatu (1979), Klaus reprises his role as a vampire bringing with him a sadness and world-weariness that makes his character’s wish to end his immortal life utterly believable. Beautiful to look at but heartbreaking to behold, this film is massively underrated. Klaus was so naughty on set that there were several directors involved and he even claimed that he had to direct himself in the end.

6. Crawlspace (1986)
Klaus plays a landlord who traps his young female tenants and slowly tortures them to death. When one of the tenants goes into the crawlspace to escape from him, Klaus follows her, wearing a hideous cardigan, black eyeliner and smeared lipstick, riding down the crawlspace on a trolley. It’s the stuff of nightmares! It’s so bad, it’s good. And Klaus created so much chaos on set that the director David Schmoeller later made a film about his experience called Please Kill Mr Kinski (1999).

7. Fruits of Passion (1989)
This is a sequel to The Story of O (1975). Klaus plays Sir Stephen, who makes his girlfriend O go and work in a bordello to ‘test their insane pact of violent love’, as you do. That’s right, it’s an erotic art-house film. But it’s full of far more visual pleasures than just female nudity; it’s stylish, it’s clever and it’s very theatrical. And there’s something for the girls: you get to see Klaus’s hot old man body in its full glory (it’s worth a good look!).

8. The Pleasure Girls (1965)
Klaus plays a slum landlord who pays for his menacing ways with a beating and a whipping in an underground car park. This film about Swinging London in the 60s takes in beatniks, compulsive gambling, pregnancy outside of wedlock, homosexuality and extramarital affairs. These days it may seem tame but back in the day one viewer complained that The Pleasure Girls would ‘incite juvenile violence at holiday weekends’!

9. Jack the Ripper (1976)
If you’re looking for a good Jess Franco film, here’s one I recommend. There’s great cinematography, and for once the story doesn’t involve women’s clothes falling off every five minutes for no apparent reason. Klaus plays a Jekyll and Hyde version of Jack the Ripper – Dr Dennis Orloff – who kills prostitutes as a way of getting revenge for the abuse he suffered as a child. Klaus plays his character in the only way he can, with ‘a kind of madness that could be transformed into brilliance’ and a sense of pain and torment.

10. That Most Important Thing: Love (1977)
When a photographer borrows money from the mafia to turn a soft-core porn actress (played by Romy Schneider) into a Shakespearean thespian, who does he turn to for help? Yes, Klaus Kinski! So you know it’s going to end in tears for someone (or everyone). Klaus gets dramatic, camps it up as a homosexual, has fist fights, takes his clothes off, sleeps with two women and then cries while looking out of a rain-spattered window. Andrzej Zulawski’s film is incredibly pretentious but also very, very stylish.

London Film Festival 2011: part 3


55th BFI London Film Festival

12-27 October 2011, various venues, London

LFF website

Last part of our coverage of the 2011 London Film Festival by Mark Stafford, Sarah Cronin, Lisa Williams, Frances Morgan and Virginie Sélavy.


On April 22, 1988, three gendarmes were killed and 30 others taken hostage in a botched operation by independence fighters on the French colony of New Caledonia. In this fictionalised account, Mathieu Kassovitz plays Captain Philippe Legorjus, the leader of a special operations unit who is sent to the island to negotiate a peaceful settlement, only to find himself outmanoeuvred and sidelined by his own colleagues. The latest from the actor-director mixes docu-drama and action thriller elements to create a wrenching, powerful and intelligent film that exposes the arrogance and brutality of the French elite during the 10-day hostage crisis. Kassovitz opens the film with a tableau depicting the final moments of the stand-off, before piecing together a day-by-day reconstruction of how events went tragically wrong; tension builds quickly, immediately immersing the audience in the politically charged story. It’s impossible not to sympathise with the islanders’ struggle to take back their country from the French; the scenes of the Kanak people performing their endangered rituals are extremely moving, while the unfolding actions of the French army are increasingly sickening (the film ends on a particularly grim note). The hostage crisis took place against the backdrop of the closely fought presidential election between Mitterrand and Chirac, with political allegiances and ambition outweighing any real desire for a negotiated end to the conflict. The politicians back in Paris wanted it over before the elections, and the French army, invading a colony for the first time since Algeria, had enough incentives to ensure the rebels – horribly dehumanised in the French media – were violently suppressed. In Rebellion, Kassovitz has created an impressive and gripping piece of genre filmmaking that is also an indictment of France’s colonial legacy. SC

Dreams of a Life

Joyce Carol Vincent’s body was discovered in her Wood Green flat three years after she had died. Documentary maker Carol Morley has attempted to piece the life of this mystery woman together and has built a portrait, not of the ageing shut-in that most people might have imagined from the tabloid reports, but a pretty would-be singer and bubbly social girl who seemed to hang around in other people’s lives and never quite become herself. Fascinating stuff, with brilliantly assembled material that makes you ponder what effect you have on those around you and what impression you will leave behind. It’s a pity that the long, stagey reconstructions just don’t work and seem to strain for an effect that they don’t achieve, because the talking heads quietly reduced me to tears. MS

Dreams of a Life is released in the UK on 16 December 2011 by Dogwoof.

We Need To Talk about Kevin

We Need To Talk about Kevin is a chillingly apt title as Lynne Ramsay’s latest film contains precious little dialogue. Quite a feat given that it is based on the much-lauded novel by Lionel Shriver in which Eva, the narrator, describes the events leading up to her son committing a dreadful crime and reflects upon its consequences. This format would easily lend itself to a verbatim expositional voice-over in a film adaptation but, as was obvious from her 2002 film Morvern Callar, Ramsay knows the power of silence.

That’s not to say the film is noiseless. In fact, it is charged with sounds which, to Eva, evoke that fateful night when she discovered the full extent of Kevin’s crimes. But, rather than rely on dialogue to tell the story, Ramsay brings out Tilda Swinton’s extraordinary abilities as an actress to communicate Eva’s living hell. We see her close her eyes in almost orgasmic relief when a roadside drill drowns the wails of her crying baby, for example, and – when a doctor tells her that toddler Kevin’s reluctance to talk is not down to autism – what you see register on Eva’s face looks suspiciously like a faint flicker of disappointment.

Combined with arresting cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, and disturbing performances from the three actors who play Kevin from infant to teenager, Ramsay’s restraint elevates into poetry what could have, in the wrong hands, been turned into a gruesome misery memoir. LW

We Need To Talk about Kevin was released in UK cinemas on 21 October 2011 by Artificial Eye.

The Kid with a Bike

Another fine film from the Dardenne brothers, who seem to have a way of making low-budget films about people from the wrong side of the tracks that just don’t run along the same rails as others. Nothing here harangues us about ‘issues’ in society. It’s just the story of Cyril, the hell-on-wheels 11-year-old of the title. Living in a children’s home, but escaping to pursue the dad who put him there at every given opportunity, Cyril’s single-minded, resourceful zeal blinds him to the fact, evident to all others, that his father is a bit of a shitbag. Still, somebody up there must like him, because one of his misadventures throws him into the arms of Samantha (Cécile de France), who agrees to take on the little terror on weekends. Is it possible that she can help Cyril to save himself from the world of pain he’s so energetically chasing? There are no ostentatious camera set-ups or performances here, just lean, intelligent filmmaking that finds the best way to get to the heart of scene after scene. For my money, it’s not up there with L’enfant (which just seemed to have more going on), and I kind of wonder how long the Dardennes can repeat a winning formula. But hell, this is great stuff. MS

The Monk

The Monk

Matthew Lewis’s sulphurous Gothic novel adapted by Dominik Moll, director of the wickedly brilliant Harry, He’s Here to Help, with Vincent Cassel in the role of evil monk Ambrosio: it sounded terrific on paper, but the film did not quite live up to expectations. To be fair to Moll, it is a very difficult novel to adapt: narratively labyrinthine, it relies on the intricate echoes and contrasts between its different strands to create depth and resonance; forced to concentrate on one story, the film feels strangely bare. In keeping with the nightmarish quality of Gothic novels, Moll has gone for a dreamlike, artificial world, which sometimes works (the addition of the mask for the character of Valerio is eerie and chilling; Ambrosio’s recurring dream, which is not in the novel but perfectly fits with its spirit, is strikingly evocative), but too often descends into cartoony Gothic clichés (night outings to the cemetery, gargoyles, thunderstorms, etc.). Vincent Cassel is great as the conflicted monk battling repressed desires, and both he and Moll clearly give their all, but the result of their efforts is oddly paced, narratively meagre and stylistically overwrought. VS

Natural Selection

Amiably filthy road trip, as a childless Christian wife (Rachael Harris) tracks down the junkie fugitive fruit (Matt O’Leary) of her husband’s sperm bank habit, after hubby has a stroke while, well, having a stroke. It’s pretty familiar American indie comedy stuff as the odd couple learn from each other, and you can kinda predict where it’s going most of the time, but the central performances are fine, it makes you care, and the dialogue is foul-mouthed and funny. (‘Maybe we can go see a unicorn take a shit made of lullabies.’) I liked it a lot. MS

Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai

Last year, Takashi Miike remade a little-seen 1963 samurai film by Eiichi Kudo, 13 Assassins, which was undeniably a lot of fun, but uncharacteristically conventional for the director, both in its filmmaking style and its attitude to the traditional values of the samurai. Puzzlingly, this year Miike has directed a 3D version of Masaki Kobayashi’s acclaimed 1962 Harakiri (Seppuku), a virulent, powerful indictment of the hypocrisy of Japan’s feudal system and the samurai’s code of honour. Miike is clearly going through a chanbara phase, although he seems a bit unsure of where he stands in relation to the samurai tradition. This may explain why Kobayashi’s searing condemnation of the samurai’s rules of conduct as empty, rigid and inhuman is blunted in the dialogue and weakened by lethargic direction and melodramatic excesses in Miike’s version.

When Miike doesn’t water down the original film, he simply reiterates it. The story of a poor ronin, whose request to commit ritual suicide in the courtyard of a prestigious family’s house conceals a desperate act of revenge, is told through exactly the same series of flashbacks as in Kobayashi’s film. The striking image of the ronin kneeling down in the courtyard surrounded by the almost geometrically positioned samurai simply repeats the exquisite compositions of the earlier film.

Visually, Miike adds 3D, which has the effect of making the colours dull and dark while being completely superfluous, given that there is little action. The most striking 3D scenes are those that show beautiful autumn leaves in the foreground against stony walls in the background, snow falling in the feudal house’s courtyard, and the credits rolling in front of the house’s symbolic samurai statue. Nice, but hardly indispensable. Which is a fairly accurate description of this pointless remake. VS

Shock Head Soul

It’s beautifully shot, and I love the typewriter jellyfish manifestations, but Shock Head Soul renders what seems to be a fascinating psychological case study into an achingly serious, ponderous trudge. It offers no compelling characters or observations of note and I found myself, after half an hour, wanting the whole thing to just shut up, which is possibly not the compassionate reaction to mental illness that the filmmakers were aiming for. Maybe I’m too stupid, too stupid to understand. MS

Mosori Monika

Intimate Visions: Films by Chick Strand

While the LFF closing gala screenings took place on the other side of the river, there was a tiny audience for the NFT’s programme of six films made between the 1960s and 1980s by Chick Strand, the Californian experimental and ethnographic filmmaker who died in 2009. It was a rare chance to see Strand’s work, and we got to sample a few different facets of it, from found-footage pieces that make use of archival material to her poetic, intimate approach to ethnographic filmmaking. The witty and, in the case of Loose Ends(1979), sometimes disturbing montages of old film and audio – in which sound and vision are juxtaposed in a way that recalls the darkly funny audio-visual collages of People Like Us – have dated less well than Mosori Monika (1970), a dreamlike, compelling portrait of a missionary settlement in Venezuela with conflicting voice-overs from a Catholic nun and an indigenous woman. Meanwhile, Artificial Paradise (1986), shot in Mexico, is both a gorgeously tactile, hypnotic piece about human and animal bodies in motion and in close-up – dancing, running, riding – and a comment on the exoticisation of those bodies: an example of having one’s cake and eating it, perhaps, but it’s spellbinding stuff. Strand’s feel for physicality and use of found footage are combined in Angel Blue Sweet Wings (1966), in which a male dancer whirls in the sunshine to the sound of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Doctor Feelgood’, while lights and sequins pulse in joyful sympathy, articulating a feminist vision that’s as sensual and playful as it is critical. FM


It’s always nice when the bad guys in an ensemble film neatly take themselves out of the picture, isn’t it? Saves you having to, ooh, I don’t know, write something that might actually happen in the real world. Fernando Meirelles’s latest features a host of fine acting talent (Hopkins! Weisz! Debbouze! That bloke out of The Baader-Meinhof Complex! ummm… Jude Law!) and puts them to work in a series of interlocking scenarios based around travellers from Vienna, London, Paris, Denver and Phoenix. I’d be lying if I said it had nothing going on, with this many characters and stories something was bound to click, and the dissolves and transitions are inventive, but really, this is tossycock of the first order. Tossycock, I tell you! MS


Mentions of the Strugatsky brothers and Tarkovsky in the LFF write-up on this futuristic Russian tale were enticing, but Target turned out to be a pompous sci-fi soufflé, philosophically fluffy, insipid and indigestible. The story follows members of the Russian media and political elite as they seek to obtain eternal youth by travelling to a remote, abandoned astrophysics base and exposing themselves to the cosmic rays channelled into its central well. But the experience is so intense that its consequences are extreme, in a manner both positive and destructive. Unlike its illustrious predecessors, the self-important and portentous Target offers strictly no insights into the human condition, and no ideas of any interest about the future or the universe over its sprawling two-and-a-half-hour running time. The wide screen attempts to convey an epic feel, the sun’s rays over the ‘target’ in the barren landscape are meant to be humbling, the urban settings are as slick and modern as in Hollywood science fiction, and the whole is entirely empty and soulless. And then there’s the sex. Laughably bad sex, made worse by startling outbursts of bombastic music, in case the audience did not quite get how passionate it all is. And in a couple of instances, even dodgy sex, in which the women are barely consenting. This is one Target that is way off the mark. VS


With its punkety rockety /sex ‘n’ drugs/ monochrome on the scuzzy streets milieu, Gandu/Asshole kind of put me in mind of the Cinema of Transgression flicks of the 80s and 90s. Most of those films, however, ran for 20 minutes tops. Gandu runs for 89, which is a long time to spend in the company of an unbearable, un-pretty solipsistic douchebag, who smokes smack, nicks money from his hooker mom’s clients, and bemoans his fate as a would-be hip hop star in an Indian backwater that has no need of one. It all looks like photo spreads from Vice magazine, or Dazed and Confused, there’s some of yer actual unsimulated sex, and a datura trip and all kinds of Daily Mail baiting whatnot, but it was only while reading the notes in the programme that I realised that the mother character was supposed to be his mother, which pretty much sums it up. Has its moments, visually and musically, and it has energy to burn, but at the end of the day, it’s bollocks. MS

Survival Instincts: Shôhei Imamura’s 1960s heroines

Pigs and Battleships

In a 1994 interview with the Japanese filmmaker Toichi Nakata, the nuberu bagu figurehead Shôhei Imamura explained that his interest in lower-class women stemmed from his post-war black market experiences: ‘They weren’t educated and they were vulgar and lusty, but they were also strongly affectionate and they instinctively confronted all their own sufferings. I grew to admire them enormously.’ It was a difficult period for Japan as the nation tried to rebuild both economy and morale, with lower-class citizens forced to undertake whatever work they could find in order to make it through the week. Imamura came from a relatively privileged background and studied Western history at Waseda University, but was less interested in attending classes than he was in associating with opportunistic racketeers and fallen women. Such encounters made a significant impression on Imamura, who felt sympathetic towards the hostesses, prostitutes and other women in demeaning jobs, and acknowledged the strength that made them more multi-faceted than mere victims of circumstances. Life is hard for the female protagonists of Imamura’s 1960s output, whose characters struggle with a host of obstacles (abuse, ostracism, poverty), yet usually manage to get on with things despite such setbacks. If such depictions of daily drudgery served to make wider points about Japan as a nation in the 1960s, the director never lost sight of the personal struggles. Imamura was very much an anthropologist, stating in a 1985 interview with Audie Bock, ‘My heroines are true to life – just look around you at Japanese women’.

Such themes would not emerge in Imamura’s work until he achieved a degree of independence from the demands of studio production line. As with many Japanese filmmakers, Imamura started his career as a contract player, initially employed at Shochiku Studios, where he worked as an assistant to Yasujirô Ozu on Early Summer (1951), The Flavour of Green Tea over Rice (1952) and Tokyo Story (1953). Disliking the manner in which the quiet master would portray the Japanese society of the period, and desiring a better salary, Imamura departed Shochiku in 1954 to work at rival studio Nikkatsu, where he also served as an apprentice, assisting Yuzo Kawashima, and was elevated to co-screenwriter status with Sun in the Last Days of the Shogunate (1957). Having paid his dues on the factory floor, Imamura was offered the opportunity to direct with Stolen Desire (1958), a tale of travelling actors. His following films, Nishi Ginza Station (1958), Endless Desire (1958) and My Second Brother (1959), were pure pop, lightweight entertainments aimed at the youth market, but things changed when Imamura secured a larger budget to shoot Pigs and Battleships (1961). The director’s fifth feature is a scathing satire of post-war Japanese society that filtered its social-economic critique through the story of small-time crook Kinta (Hiroyuki Nagato) and his girlfriend Haruko (Jitsuko Yoshimura), who works as a waitress in a bar adjacent to a brothel. Haruko is the prototype for Imamura’s 1960s heroines in that she is horribly mistreated but remains resolutely practical and progressive.

Throughout the film, Haruko encourages Kinta to leave Yokosuka, a seedy port town where corruption is not so much under the table as out on the street, in favour of a new life in Nagasaki where Kinta could undertake a factory position. However, the young thug believes that he has what it takes to scale the underworld ladder, which turns out to be the kind of misguided self-confidence that fatally undermines life expectancy. Even before Kinta embarks on an ill-fated scheme involving pig-farming, Haruko is considering taking a walk, such is her level-headed nature. As this is an Imamura film, she will have to suffer a little more before she can make her escape from the slums of Yokosuka: reduced to prostitution, Haruko is gang-raped by three American sailors, then tries to rip them off in what could be an act of revenge or just a desperate need for relocation money, leading to a chase through Yokosuka’s red light district. In the closing scene, Haruko strides purposefully towards the train that will take her to Nagasaki, heading in the opposite direction to the large group of American sailors who have just arrived in Yokosuka; this signifies Haruko’s rejection of Japanese society as represented by local crime and the influence of the occupying foreign power, but her future remains uncertain and Nagasaki may just be the first of many temporary stops. While the story of Haruko is told in parallel to that of Kinta, Imamura’s subsequent films would move their heroines to centre stage.

The Insect Woman (1963) famously begins with Imamura making the potentially unflattering comparison between rural peasant Tomie (Sachiko Hidari) and an insect that repeatedly attempts to climb a mound of dirt, only to slide back and try again. Tomie goes through similar struggles in her efforts to gain a footing in Japanese society: born into the incestuous village community of Tohoku in 1918, she leaves her mentally retarded stepfather and unfaithful mother to work in a city factory, only to be summoned home where she is raped and impregnated by a local whose father owns her family’s land. She decides to keep the child and leaves her daughter Nobuko in the care of her stepfather to return to the city, promising to send money home. The episodes that follow show Tomie’s evolution from self-sufficient worker to self-interested operator: jobs as a labour organiser and a nanny are followed by a dalliance with religion, before she seemingly descends into prostitution, only to demonstrate some street-smart business skills when she reports her madam to the police so that she can take over the brothel. As with Haruko in Pigs and Battleships, Tomie has understood the unwritten rules of a Japanese society that is undergoing rapid reconstruction following World War II. But unlike Haruko, she embraces these changes, thereby evolving from abused peasant girl to ruthless entrepreneur. Imamura is unflinching in his observation of Tomie’s questionable choices, but certainly not judgmental, and provides a direct link to his previous film by casting Pigs and Battleships leading lady Yoshimura as Nobuko.

The attempts made by Tomie to advance her standing in Japanese society, economically if not socially, can be contrasted with the efforts made by Sadako (Masumi Harukawa), the heroine of Intentions of Murder (1964), to simply hold on to what she already has. The basis for Intentions of Murder was a sociological study that Imamura had conducted of a woman living in Northern Japan: Sadako is a common-law wife and mother who, at a young age, settled for a life controlled by a librarian husband who cheats on her and a mother-in-law who does not respect her. Although she dutifully performs household tasks and balances the family budget – an emphasis on the appliances in their home serves to note how such things can easily be taken away – Sadako is mistreated by Riichi, who is reluctant to officially register her as his wife because of her ’embarrassing’ peasant background. While the husband is away, struggling musician Hiraoko (Shigeru Tsuyuguchi) breaks into the home and threatens Sadako with a knife in order to extort some money, his act of aggression extending to rape. Afraid of being ostracised from the family and local community if her violation becomes common knowledge, she does not report the rape, and Hiraoko actually becomes her lover as she seeks the sexual gratification that she does not receive from her husband Riichi (Kô Nishimura), who is having an affair. Hitting a low point, Sadako considers suicide, but comes back from the brink to reaffirm her familial status.

The heroines of Pigs and Battleships, The Insect Woman and Intentions of Murder demonstrate remarkable survival instincts; resilient and surprisingly resourceful, they refuse to give up in the face of adversity and manage, in some small way, to improve or stabilise their respective situations, even if happiness remains elusive. Each has a moment that signifies their admirable stubbornness: Haruko refuses to marry an American suitor even though it would bring her family a much-needed $400 per month, the elderly Tomie keeps moving when her wooden sandal breaks, and Sadako firmly denies having an affair despite photographic evidence. Imamura seemed to consider Intentions of Murder to bring closure to this unofficial trilogy of strong-willed women and subsequently directed The Pornographers (1966), which revolves around the activities of adult filmmaker Subuyan (Shoichi Ozawa). There are interesting female characters in Haru (Sumiko Sakamoto), the widowed landlady who sleeps with Subuyan, and her daughter Keiko (Keiko Sagawa), whom the filmmaker desires, but both are gone by the conclusion, which finds Subuyan living in a secluded area with a sex doll for company. To return to the 1994 Imamura interview, when Nakata suggested to Imamura that his heroines ‘all counter the Western stereotype of the submissive Asian woman’, the director matter-of-factly replied, ‘Japanese women generally are like that’. This exchange serves to underline Imamura’s point about Haruko, Tomie and Sadako: these women are as remarkable as they are ordinary, a contradiction that places them among the most fascinating heroines in the history of Japanese cinema.

Pigs and Battleships is available on Blu-ray + DVD from Eureka Entertainment.

John Berra

Darkness Audible: Sub-bass, tape decay and Lynchian noise

Illustration by Lisa Claire Magee

To mark the release of David Lynch’s first full-length solo album, Crazy Clown Time, we are making available as a PDF an article on David Lynch’s soundtracks published in The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology (Strange Attractor Press).

Read ‘Darkness Audible: Sub-bass, tape decay and Lynchian noise’ by Frances Morgan with illustrations by Lisa Claire Magee.

From the gutter to the avant-garde, The End: An Electric Sheep Anthology brings together a mind-bendingly eclectic programme of films, authors, artists and directors, including Bill Morrison’s chemical ghosts, the bad girls of 50s exploitation films, apocalyptic evangelical cinema, the human centipede, Spanish zombies, Japanese nihilists, Henri-Georges Clouzot’s lost masterpiece Inferno and Ingmar Bergman’s visions of the end. A must-read for all film lovers and those who like to wander off the beaten cultural track!

To buy the book, go to the Strange Attractor website.

Zipangu 2011 preview: Sounds and Music


Zipangu Fest

18-24 November 2011

ICA + Cafe Oto, London

Zipangu Fest website

The second Zipangu Fest, celebrating the best of cutting-edge and avant-garde Japanese cinema, will be held at London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and Café Oto from November 18 to 24, before moving to venues around the UK. The festival will showcase a selection of Japan’s finest features, documentaries, shorts, animation and experimental films. This year, it includes a strand exploring sound and film, which is previewed below by Eleanor McKeown and Tom Mes.

KanZeOn (2011)

KanZeOn begins on a tranquil note. A young Buddhist priest kneels, softly chanting while the camera produces languid shots of the temple’s interior. The calm is punctured when he leaves the floor, picks up a set of headphones and starts spinning hip hop records on a set of decks. It is one of many magically strange scenes that make up this thought-provoking exploration of links between Japanese Buddhism and sound.

The documentary follows three individuals in Kyushu: Akinobu Tatsumi, the hip hop-loving priest; Eri Fujii, a master of the Sho, an ancient bamboo instrument that mythically mimics the cry of a Chinese phoenix; and Akihiro Iitomi, a jazz-loving performer of Noh theatre. Divided into elliptical segments, the film switches between the three musicians as they perform their art and discuss what sound and music mean to them. The beautifully filmed sequences leave behind strong images, from the shadow of beat-boxing Tatsumi reflected onto perfect turquoise river water to the inspired performance of Fujii, set against a backdrop of crashing waterfalls. The sounds of nature and human endeavour combine to create exquisite duets. The languorous pacing allows the audience to absorb these fascinating combinations and contemplate the part that music and everyday sounds might play in their own lives. Accompanied by a discussion between SOAS lecturer Lucia Dolce and filmmakers Neil Cantwell and Tim Grabham, the Zipangu festival screening should provide a thoughtful insight into the role of sound in Japanese society and religion. EM

Listen to directors Neil Cantwell and Tim Grabham discuss the film + Tatsumi Akinobu give a performance of his Buddhist chanting and beat-boxing skills on the Electric Sheep’s I’m Ready For My Close-Up radio show on Resonance FM 104.4, Friday 18 November, 5-5:30pm.

We Don’t Care about Music Anyway (2009)

Those who care as much about music as about movies will find a rich harvest at Zipangu again this year. Not least in the shape of We Don’t Care about Music Anyway, Cédric Dupire and Gaspard Kuentz’s rather fascinating documentary on some of the leading lights of Japan’s noise scene. Alternating a round-table discussion between the participants with their individual performance pieces, the film is less radical in its form than Kikoe, Iwai Chikara’s documentary tribute to the great Otomo Yoshihide from three years ago – not to mention Ishii Sogo’s pivotal film on German noise pioneers Einstürzende Neubauten, Halber Mensch (1986) – but it is all the more accessible and emphatic as a result. The debate/performance structure conveys the theory and practice that inform the divergent methods of these musicians. The sparse set-up of the round-table talk contrasts greatly and effectively with the more exuberant mise en scéne of the performance pieces, which see the participants at work on scrap heaps, in underground tunnels, in ruined buildings and – in the most eye-catching sequence (which also provides the film’s main promo visual) – on the beach. Those looking for a history lesson or a broad overview of Japan’s noise scene will be left wanting, since the focus of We Don’t Care about Music Anyway is firmly on the small group of featured artists. As a brief immersion, however, it is a genuine delight. TM

Enter the Cosmos: Takashi Makino Special (2004-2011)

As part of its exploration of Japanese sound and film, the Zipangu festival will be screening a showcase of three films by acclaimed experimental filmmaker Takashi Makino. Makino’s films provide bizarre journeys through enigmatic soundscapes, composed of various sonic textures from the dislocated organ of a carousel to discordant piano notes and extreme feedback. The whir, crackle and drone of machines are accompanied by the imperfections of film and pixelated distortions of video. The visual scale is vast and the pacing is slow, like a 45rpm record set to 33rpm.

The first work, Intimate Stars (2004), provides the most recognisable sounds and visuals of all the films with occasional glimpses of vaudeville performers and fairground rides. The film offers representations of both exterior and interior landscapes as shots of branches and rushing skies segue into images so enlarged as to be wrought into completely abstract forms. The later films to be screened show an even greater exploration of abstraction. Elements of Nothing (2007) and In Your Star (2011) take the audience on trips through different emotional states and immersive sensations from the peaceful plucking of strings to uncomfortably intense feedback. Not for the faint-hearted, these bold, challenging, extreme odysseys provide a fascinating introduction to Makino’s work. EM

Coming soon: Comic Strip Review of Abraxas, about a ex-punk musician turned Buddhist monk.