Takemitsu: Like John Cage, if John Cage Scored Samurai Movies 

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While many of the films in Film Forum's series are among the most celebrated in Japanese cinema history, it is the rarities that are the real standouts. Foremost is Kon Ichikawa's Alone on the Pacific (1963), based on the journals of the first man to sail solo from Osaka to San Francisco. The severe isolation of the voyage and fierce determination of the protagonist make this seem like the aquatic sibling to Ichikawa's earlier Fires on the Plain (1959). This exciting seafaring adventure is as fun as it is intense to watch, and Takemitsu's score perfectly complements the dynamic, bravura performance by Yujiro Ishihara as the lone sailor. Takemitsu utilizes a range of instrumention—from the solo classical guitar to dissonant orchestral harmonies—to manifest the sailor's range of emotions and shifting psychological states. Since it is not available on DVD or VHS and only screens once (Dec 9, 6:30PM), consider it criminal to miss this one.

Another not-on-DVD gem that's not to be missed is Himatsuri (1985), directed by Mitsuo Yanagimachi (who also made the cult documentary fave Godspeed You! Black Emperor [1976] about Japanese biker gangs). Set on a coastal fishing village, Himatsuri perspires from enough enough pulpy, primal desires to make James M. Cain envious. Its main character is a lumberjack split between a sensual relationship with nature and a carnal extramarital affair. A series of cultural faux pas and his refusal to sell his land spark conflict with the local fishermen, escalating into horrific violence. There's an ineffable allure to Himatsuri, a mysticism and physicality that is beyond words but ideally and perfectly embodied by Yanagimachi's gorgeous location photography and Takemitsu's earthly score. Plus, there are torch fights, dog vs. boar fights, group male skinny dipping, and a spontaneous synchronized 80s dance routine from some young bikers. It's a bizarre, baffling, and beautiful film.

One more can't-miss: Youth of Japan (Hymn to a Tired Man) (1968), directed by Takemitsu's frequent collaborator Kobayashi, about a near-deaf, middle-aged designer still traumatized by his experiences in World War II, and his teenage son who is contemplating military school. It's a perfect display of Takemitsu's range of emotion, from the bittersweet harmonica melody that is as poignant as "Everybody's Talkin'" in Midnight Cowboy, to the shrill dissonance of wailing violins used during a pivotal wartime flashback.

And despite the availability of some of the movies on DVD, these films were not only meant to be seen on a big screen, but to be heard without the annoyance of beeping microwaves, ringing doorbells, and migrant roommates moving to and fro the kitchen. Take the series' opener Woman in the Dunes (1964)—an eerily erotic nightmare as sandy as it is spectacular—off of the Netflix queue and give studios and distributors a reason to keep 35mm prints in circulation.


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