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 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
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