Films on Friday, April 7: Imagining Japan

  • Matthew Lax: Lil’ Tokyo Story [kahden ruudun versio]

Programme 1: Imagining Japan

Cultural Arena Gloria, Pieni Roobertinkatu 12, at 9-11 p.m. Durance 85 min. After the films Olaf Möller will discuss with artist Edgar Honetschläger.

Film critic Olaf Möller tells the background story for his selection of films in Programme 1:

“During a dinner party that became the center piece of IHME artist Theaster Gates’ first major exhibition, Plate Convergences (2007), the artist regaled his guests with a story about a Japanese master ceramicist called Yamaguchi Shōji who in the aftermath of WWII settled down in Mississippi and married a black civil rights activist named May. Meeting Yamaguchi, he claimed, had been extremely important for his development as an artist; thing is: There never was a ceramicist called Yamaguchi Shōji. Like so many 20th and 21st century artists before him, Gates considered his own vision and aspirations through an allegory involving East Asia – the Far East, the other side of the world. This program offers a walk through roughly a century of cinema along the idea of “Western” artists imagining Japan.


Take a look Programme 2: Reading Remains.

Les Kiriki – Acrobates japonais

1907, Segundo de Chomón, 3’, 35mm.

An early avant-garde delight: A group of (supposedly…) Japanese performers gracefully pile up into the most outrageous, gravity-defying “acrobatic arrangements” – figures which sometimes resemble kanji (= Japanese characters). How can they do this? Quite simply: through the magic of cinema… A small gem from one of early film’s most visionary geniuses!

Le Châtiment de samuraï

1910, The Japanese Film d’Art / Série d’Art Pathé frères, 9’, 35mm.

During the first half of the 20th century’s teens, the French production house Pathé frères financed and distributed various short works set in Japan under the label The Japanese Film d’Art. The fictional works were usually shot in Paris using the talent of Japanese theatre actors touring Europe (and eager for some additional cash). The stories told and images created in these films catered to Western audiences’ fascination with Japan’s seemingly extreme ideas of honour as well as its widely adored sense of aesthetic restrained. Le Châtiment de samuraï is one of the earliest examples for these reveries.

The Mikado

1926, Fred Watts?, 4’, 35mm.

One of Great Britain’s the most-beloved visions of Japan is Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera in two acts, The Mikado; or, The Town of Titipu (1885). Occasioned be Charles Rickett’s 1926 re-costuming of Richard D’Oyly Carte’s production of the piece, this enchanting mix of backstage documentary and artful advertisement was made.

Vostočnaja Elegija

1996, Aleksandr Sokurov, 45’, Beta SP.

“Weeks, spent in Japan, when we worked at our Oriental Elegy, seem today something improbable and unreal. When I remember those days now, I am afraid, understanding how great the risk was, the risk to fall down and break…The mountain which I decided to climb was too high. Besides, the ascend was made at the most unfavourable time and along the steepest slope. How much was it my merit, that the ascent was performed, and more or less successfully? It is mine, concerning only the reckless resolution with which I started. But it is mostly the success of my good friends from Japan, who believed me, helped me selflessly and directed me. My Japanese friends were kind, affectionate, disinterested, patient, tolerant –  the very Japanese, whom I love dearly; and luckily, I cannot even imagine the Japanese otherwise.” Aleksandr Sokurov


2007, Ho Tzu-nyen, 14′, H.264 video.

Lafcadio Hearn (or: Lefkádios Chern) was a Greek-British writer who in 1891, after a life of strife and adventure, traveled to Japan where he went native as one said back then; meaning: he took on a Japanese name: Koizumi Yakumo, and tried to live what he understood as a Japanese life, which included writing Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (1903), a peculiar mix of short gothic tales and spiritual ethnography. Hélas, the locals saw him for what he was: not one of their own. Reflections, based on a short fable by Hearn, talks about that in a style unique and bewitching: Children pantomiming in a cardboard world.

Lil’ Tokyo Story [two screen version]

2016, Matthew Lax, 4’, DCP.

A gender-bended shot-by-shot re-enactment of one of world cinema’s most memorable, celebrated, cherished moments: Mother and daughter talk about life as being all disappointments and sorrows. Side by side we see two variations of the scene: one in Japanese and one in English. Minor variations in rhythm and body language become visible – the devastating pathos of loneliness remains ever the same.


2005, Edgar Honetschläger, 7’, DCP.

A chicken wearing a specially designed suit in the design and colours of the Japanese flag proudly walks a stage. In the background, Vienna’s famous choirboys in their sailor suits add music and splendour to the scene. Quite obviously, Austrian artist Edgar Honetschläger has spent many years of his life in Japan – for how otherwise could he create something so kimo-kawaii Austrian style?