WHAT: In the mid-1960s, the studio system in Japan was facing serious structural problems and began exploring new strategies to holding the attention of audiences. When Toho Studio distributed Hiroshi Teshigahara's independently-produced Woman in the Dunes it became a hit in Japan and abroad. Toho asked the film's producer Yasuo Matsukawa to provide a follow-up for them to distribute. Matsukawa enlisted Kuroki, a director of documentaries who had always been interested in breaking into features, to make the film, which ended up being Silence Has No Wings. With all the publicity already set for its distribution through the studio, once Toho executives viewed the completed film they cancelled its intended release, calling it a "lunatic film". It was instead distributed by the Art Theatre Guild, a company that specialized in releasing films by European auteurs to Japanese cinemas, a much more natural home for a film by a director profoundly influenced by Alain Resnais and Jean-Luc Godard. A year and a half later, the ATG released the first in a string of dozens of films produced under its own auspices: Shohei Imamura's remarkable A Man Vanishes.
WHERE/WHEN: 7:00 PM tonight at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
WHY: Silence Has No Wings opens a spectacular series at the Pacific Film Archive, Chronicles of Inferno: Japan's Art Theater Guild. It's three weeks of rarely-shown works made by filmmakers associated with the ATG, all of them legendary in the history of the Japanese New Wave. Although this weekend's in-person appearance by another documentarian-turned feature filmmaker Susumu Hani unfortunately has been cancelled, his ATG-distributed She And He will still screen Saturday night, while two of his early classroom-set shorts and his best-known film, The Inferno of First Love (produced by the ATG) screen in his absence Sunday.
Hani's sudden cancellation is disappointing because chances to meet key figures of 1960s Japanese filmmaking are all-too-rare here in the Bay Area. Takahiko Iimura is the only director from that era that I can recall making a public appearance here in the past 10 years or so that I've been faithfully paying attention to such matters. (Two of Iimura's films are part of a complimentary/competing series of films even more underground than the Art Theatre Guild, happening at Yerba Buena Center For the Arts, incidentally.) And opportunities for this to occur are disappearing rapidly. Ten years ago, eight of the nine directors with films in this PFA series were still alive (all but Shuji Terayama, who made Pastoral: Hide And Seek but died in 1983 after making his, and the ATG's, final film, Farewell to the Ark.) With the mid-2000s passings of Imamura, Kuroki, and Kihachi Okamoto (Human Bullet), and more recently of Koji Wakamatsu (Ecstasy of the Angels), who died last October, and of Nagisa Oshima (The Ceremony) who died less than a month ago, there are only three filmmakers in this series still among us: Hani, Masahiro Shinoda (Double Suicide) and Toshio Matsumoto (Shura).
HOW: 16mm print. The entire series screens on either 35mm or 16mm.