The third season of Unknown Japan wrapped up last night with two 45 minute features from modern Japanese filmmakers (not to mention the largest crowd we’ve had for a UJ screening thus far, thanks for coming out everybody). Shunji Iwai’s Undo (1994) told the tale of a young man forced to deal with his girlfriend’s “Obsessive Knot-Binding Syndrome” while Shinsuke Sato’s The Time of Death (2011) featured a cheating wife and her young beau as they dealt with the unexpected arrival of her husband. Both films took place within the confines of small apartments and could be characterized as “thrillers” though they exist on completely opposite ends of the genre. Undo isn’t available in the U.S., but The Time of Death can now be viewed online via Amazon.
Shunji Iwai is one of modern Japanese cinema’s most acclaimed directors. He began his career in television in the early 90s; Undo was his first theatrical release. This was followed by a string of highly stylish yet accessible youth culture films including Love Letter (1995), Picnic (1996), and the highly regarded Swallowtail Butterfly (1996), a dystopian tale that featured an interesting cast of musicians (Chara, Mickey Curtis, Tomorowo Taguchi) and top-notch young talent (Tadanobu Asano, Undo’s Hiroshi Mikami). Iwai achieved international success with 2001’s All About Lily Chou-Chou (available on DVD in the U.S.), an exhausting and endlessly rewarding (though it hasn’t aged as well as I would have liked) tale of communication amongst interconnected modern youth. 2004’s Hana and Alice is a light comedy about two feuding high school girls that is also available on DVD stateside though it isn’t the most memorable of films. In 2006 he directed a documentary on Kon Ichikawa, whose film Topo Gigio and the Missile War was featured earlier in this series, and in 2009 he contributed a segment to the theatrically released anthology film New York, I Love You. 2011 saw his first English-language film, the film festival favorite Vampire, which featured the likes of Kristin Kreuk, Rachael Leigh Cook, and Amanda Plummer. It’s a disturbingly atmospheric twist on the serial killer format that is quite worthy of your time, but unfortunately has yet to be released on DVD over here. Iwai’s latest project was a tsunami documentary entitled Friends After 3.11 (2012).
Shinsuke Sato’s first feature film was The Princess Blade (2001), a moderately budgeted action film that mixed genres to successful results as it played film festivals and was released on DVD all over the world including the U.S. He followed this with a few other films that I know nothing about and then returned to international fame with his 2010 big budget live action adaptation of the highly successful (and highly strange) Gantz manga/anime. This was predictably followed by a sequel, Gantz: Perfect Answer, in 2011; The Time of Death is his latest work.
And that’s that. Unknown Japan will return in August, hope to see you then!