The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema


The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema

Oct 2014–Feb 2015

For our 2014–15 Monthly Film Series, we welcome maverick avant-garde composer, musician and arranger John Zorn as a guest curator, calling upon his deep love and knowledge of Japanese cinema to select lesser-known or overlooked works from six Japanese directors. Ranging from experimental shorts by the “godfather of anime” Osamu Tezuka to the U.S. premiere of the whimsical made-for-television movie It’s Me Here, Bellett, directed by Nagisa Oshima, this series will inspire cinephiles to discover or re-discover Japanese cinema through the eyes of one of its most ardent fans. All films screening for the first time at Japan Society!


Special Screening

After the conclusion of The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema, Japan Society Film Program presents a special screening of Osamu Tezuka’s Legend of the Forest, Part 1 and Macoto Tezka’s Legend of the Forest, Part 2.


My first trips to Japan 30 years ago were important and inspiring on many levels. I had been a huge fan of Japanese music, art and film since the early 1960s, but late night Tokyo TV provided a peek into an entirely different world outside the classic art film masterpieces of Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa and Inagaki. It was a revelation to discover that Oshima’s Cruel Story of Youth and The Sun’s Burial were not so much an isolated vision, but actually two examples of an entire cinematic genre, and that directors like Seijun Suzuki, Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda, Yasuzo Masumura, Teruo Ishii and others had made incredible and uncompromising films that spoke as much about the Japanese psyche as origami, noh theater or the tea ceremony ever had. As I got deeper into this hidden world and began exploring the small revival houses and “porno” theaters that peppered the Tokyo landscape, I learned of directors like Noboru Tanaka, Koji Wakamatsu, Tatsumi Kumashiro and Gaira, and that Roman Porno and pink films provided young directors an outlet and a creative freedom that often resulted in extremely interesting and imaginative films that revealed a side of Japan largely unknown to the rest of the world. Eager to share this new passion, I returned to NY with hundreds of videos which, even without subtitles, burned up the screen with their handheld widescreen cinematography, bizarre angles, flamboyant use of color, adventurous music and a dark view of reality. Free underground screenings were organized at Anthology Film Archives, Knitting Factory and various other clandestine downtown locations under the title “The Dark Side of the Sun,” piquing interest from luminaries such as film critics Amy Taubin, Jim Hoberman and director Martin Scorsese. It was an exciting and inspiring time of newly opening doors and the revelations of new discoveries. Discoveries, of course, continue to this day. The five programs in this series focus on films that have never been shown at Japan Society before. A wide range of styles and formats are represented—jidaigeki, erotica, film noir, comedy, horror, anime—but they all share a stunning visual sense, an imaginative playful creativity, dark sense of humor and rather bleak worldview. For me, the experimental, adventurous and uncompromising side of any society is often the home of the deepest truths, and these films each hold their truths to an often uncomfortable extreme. I hope you enjoy the (occasionally blinding) intensity of The Dark Side of the Sun. –John Zorn

Images, from top: Matango © 1963 Toho Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved; John Zorn © Scott Irvine; Legend of the Forest © Tezuka Productions.

Japan Society’s Film Programs are generously supported by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund.
Additional season support is provided by The Globus Family, Kenneth A. Cowin, Mr. and Mrs. Omar H. Al-Farisi, Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Catanzaro, Laurel Gonsalves, David S. Howe, James Read Levy, Geoff Matters, and Dr. Tatsuji Namba.

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