Summer in New York City means Japan Society presenting another round of delish contemporary Japanese films, ranging from the weird and macabre, to the sincere and bubblegum apeshit insane! It's all happening, starting today, July 19, and roaring until July 29.
Dustin Chang and Christopher Bourne have the lowdown on some of this year's slick selections from vanguard elders and punky upstarts. Take in the gallery below for their takes on what to expect fest-side, and on just what to put on your watchlist next. For more info on the 2018 Japan Cuts program, just click here.
Naomi Kawase's intensely sensualist, deeply personal, visually transporting, and unabashedly philosophical filmmaking gets some meta-cinematic wrinkles in Radiance, her inquiry into the nature, value and purpose of cinema, and by extension, vision itself.
The two central characters are Misako (Ayame Misaki), a writer of film commentaries for blind and visually impaired audiences, and Nakamori (Masatoshi Nagase), a photographer who's rapidly losing his eyesight. Misako is working with a focus group consisting of blind and visually impaired people, who are commenting on her latest transcript for a film that will soon be publicly screened. The focus group's critiques revolve around striking a balance between being accurately descriptive of the images and allowing space for audiences to exercise their imaginations.
Nakamori is the most harshly critical, even going so far as to question Misako's competence. Misako, stung by this extreme bluntness, ripostes that the real problem is that Nakamori lacks imagination. Despite this rocky start, relations between them soon begin to thaw, and they assist each other with their personal problems: Misako's struggles with her dementia-stricken mother, and Nakamori anger and fear at going blind, destroying both his livelihood and his sense of identity.
Appropriately, for a film so occupied with themes concerning images and image-making, Radiance's visuals work overtime to overwhelm us with their all-encompassing beauty and sensuousness. Arata Dodo's cinematography consequently is a major asset, providing us with images as varied as two figures silhouetted against a brilliant sunset, moody nocturnal scenes, and lush verdant landscapes.
The way Kawase connects her imagery to the human drama within reads to some as sentimental or maudlin. But I would interpret this instead as a reflection of her deep devotion to her belief in the capacity of art to explore the porous boundaries between life and death, and its power to heal and encourage appreciation of the beauty around us that's visible if we open our vision wide enough to perceive it. -Christopher Bourne