The last three programs in this excellent series at the University of Chicago’s Film Studies Center, room 307, 5811 S. Ellis, show that identity loss is a more frequent theme in Japanese avant-garde work than the celebration of individualistic moods or visions.
Among the best of the 14 films and videos in the strongest program, Expanded Visions (119 min.), is Akio Okamoto’s Snarl-Up!!! (2001), which sets colored silhouettes of figures against landscapes; these ciphers suggest that the fact of human existence is more important than individuality, a point that’s underscored when the silhouettes are superimposed and turn white. The paradox of existence is expressed differently in Toshio Matsumoto’s Atman (1975): multiple zooms in on a masked man sitting in a field only increase his isolation. Takashi Ito’s stunning Spacy (1981) consists of zooms in a basketball court that continue into flat photographs on the court, creating a kind of hall-of-mirrors regression that opens into a limitless space. (Fri 11/5, 7 PM.)
The 12 films and videos in Sex Underground (94 min.) touch on romance and sex, including varieties you may wish you hadn’t learned about. Takahiko Iimura’s Ai (Love) (1962) sensitively depicts bodies in close-up, but a strange roar in the Yoko Ono sound track undercuts the sense of intimacy by implying a vast space. Yukie Saito’s deeply disturbing Benighted but Not Begun (1994) stars the filmmaker and her boyfriend, who kicks her out of bed, shoves her out the door, forces her to walk nude through a filthy chicken hatchery, and worse. In this story of human obliteration, power and gender are one subject. Atami Blues (1962) is a puerile love story by Donald Richie, an American transplant to Japan who uses all the Western cliches, including editing keyed to characters’ movements and manipulative close-ups of actors emoting. (Sat 11/6, 3:30 PM.)
Narrative Transgressions: Matsumoto Toshio (132 min.) includes two shorts (one triple-screen) and Matsumoto’s Funeral Parade of Roses (1969, in Japanese with subtitles), with music by his longtime collaborator Toru Takemitsu. Said to have broken new ground in Japan for its innovative experimental form and for its treatment of homosexuality and drag, this film has a slender narrative involving a club owner and various drag queens, two of whom are his lovers, competing to be the main hostess. Matsumoto mixes documentary footage (student demonstrations, interviews with queens) and self-referential gestures (we see the cast and crew at work) to create a near anarchic form that challenges authority. (Sat 11/6, 7 PM.)