JPEX: Japanese Experimental Film and Video 1955 – Now

A five-program screening series that toured seven North American cities in 2004 and 2005.

The playful insistence and explosive subversion of Japanese experimental film traditions remain neglected terrain for North American audiences. In an effort to globalize what has often been a primarily Western understanding of postwar experimentalism, JPEX: Japanese Experimental Film and Video, 1955-Now documents the radical medium of postwar Japanese experimental film, video, and animation at its fiftieth anniversary.

The five thematic programs of the series—on formal experimentation, critiques of political order, interrogations of systems of sex and gender, the experimental documentary-fiction of Matsumoto Toshio, and contemporary experimentation—provide a rare opportunity to see the extraordinary vitality of Japanese experimental film and video work.

Although its goals are not specifically retrospective or historical, JPEX nonetheless offers the most comprehensive survey of Japanese experimental cinema since at least the 1980s. To provide a more public forum for the discussion of the political, aesthetic, and social interventions made by these works, the JPEX screenings at the University of Chicago will be followed by a panel discussion on November 6, 2004 with artists and scholars Tatsu Aoki, Tom Gunning, Akira Lippett, Helen Mirra, Taro Nettleton, and Michael Raine—moderated by Jonathan Hall and Michelle Puetz.

JPEX is curated by Jonathan M. Hall and Michelle Puetz. Support from Image Forum in Tokyo, Japan. Major funding from the Humanities Center and Center for Asian Studies at the University of California, Irvine; the Norman Walt Harris Memorial Fund; the Fine Arts Fund, University of Chicago; the Committee on Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago.

1 – Expanded Visions

In Expanded Visions, the first program of the JPEX series, the extraordinary canon of mid-century Japanese formal experimentation comprised by well-recognized experimentalists such as Ito Takashi, Matsumoto Toshio, Nakajima Takashi, Okuyama Jun’ichi, and Yamazaki Hiroshi, is expanded and enriched in the light of the powerful and pioneering work of feminist filmmaker Idemitsu Mako, animator Tanaami Keiichi, and contemporary contributors to formal play. Collectively, these filmmakers probe the possibilities of cinematic representation, linear temporality, repetition, sensory overload, forgetfulness, perception, and delusive madness.

MATSUMOTO Toshio – Shiki Soku Ze Ku, 1975, 8m, color, 16mm, sound
IDEMITSU Mako – At Santa Monica 1, 1974, 6m, color, 16mm, sound
OKUYAMA Jun’ichi – My Movie Melodies, 1980, 6m, b&w, 16mm, sound
OKAMOTO Akio – Snarl-Up!!!, 2001, 8m, color, video, sound
IIMURA Takahilko – Double Portrait, 1973-1987, 6m, b&w, video, sound
YAMAZAKI Hiroshi – Heliography, 1979, 6m, color, 16mm, sound
NAKAJIMA Takashi – Cessna, 1974, 20m, color, 8mm on video, silent
MATSUMOTO Toshio – Atman  1975, 11m, color, 16mm, sound
IDEMITSU Mako – At Yukigawa 2, 1974, 10m, b&w, 16mm, sound
ITO Takashi – Spacy, 1981, 10m, color/b&w, 16mm, sound
YAMAZAKI Hiroshi – Observation, 1975, 10m, b&w, 16mm, sound
OKUYAMA Jun’ichi – Le Cinema, 1975, 5m, b&w, 16mm, sound
FURUKAWA Taku – Coffee Break, 1977, 3m, color, 16mm, sound
TANAAMI Keiichi – Why? Remix, 2002, 10m, color, video, sound

2 – Exploded States: War Politics, and National Identity

In Exploded States: War Politics, and National Identity, the importance of political and social critique for postwar Japanese experimentation is made apparent. Here, Japanese experimental film and video comes to its closest intersection with experimental theater and avant-garde performance. The films draw from and contribute to “happenings” staged by avant-gardists in the Hi Red Center group, an intercontinental Fluxus movement, and Hijikata Tatsumi’s butoh dance. Viewed together, works by Hosoe Eiko, Kawanaka Nobuhiro, and Terayama Shuji, among others, exhibit a delightful irony and playful insubordination to state, collective, and perspectival authority.

TAKAMINE Tadasu – God Bless America, 2002, 9m, color, video, sound
TANIKAWA Shuntaro & TAKEMITSU Toru – X (Batsu), 1960, 15m, b&w, 16mm, silent
HOSOE Eiko – Navel and A-Bomb, 1960, 12m, b&w, Japanese text with English subtitles, 16mm, silent
MATSUMOTO Toshio – White Hole, 1976, 7m, color, 16mm, sound
HAYASHI  Seiichi – Shadow, 1969, 3m, color, 16mm on video, sound
AIHARA Nobuhiro – Yamakagashi, 1972, 7m, color, 16mm on video, sound
KAWANAKA Nobuhiro – Switchback, 1976, 9m, color/b&w, 16mm, sound
AOKI Tatsu  3725, 1981, 11m, color, 16mm, sound
TANAAMI Keiichi – Yoshikei, 1979, 12m, color, 16mm, sound
TERAYAMA Shuji – Emperor Tomato Ketchup, 1970, 25m, b&w, in Japanese,16mm, sound

3 – Sex Underground

The films and videos in Sex Underground rebel against workaday conventions of gender, sexuality, the body, and subjectivity. Utilizing theatrical traditions and a powerful performative agency, film and video makers such as Ito Takashi, Nakajima Takashi, Donald Richie, Terayama Shuji and Imaizumi Koichi subvert and then reconfigure sexual difference, queer subjectivity, and gender performativity. From Idemitsu Mako’s lighthearted invocation of traditional gender roles and Tamano Shin’ichi’s perversely magical realism to Saito Yukie’s terrifying and oppressive exploration of male-female power dynamics, the films and videos in Sex Underground collectively suggest unexpected, yet open pathways for desire and subjectivity.

RICHIE Donald – Atami Blues, 1962, 20m, b&w, 16mm, sound
IDEMITSU Mako – Inner-Man, 1972, 4m, color, 16mm, sound
ITO Takashi – Apparatus M, 1996, 6m, color, 16mm, silent
KAWANAKA Nobuhiro – Feedback, 1973, 8m, b&w, 16mm, sound
IDEMITSU Mako – Baby Variations, 1974, 9m, color, 16mm, sound
TAMANO Shin’ichi – Kosoku Bozu, 2002, 11m, color, in Japanese, 8mm on video, sound
NAKAJIMA Takashi – Investigation, 1984, 3m, color, 8mm on video, sound
IIMURA Takahiko – Ai (Love), 1962, 10m, b&w, Super-8 on16mm, sound by Yoko Ono
IMAIZUMI Koichi – I Want You to Kiss Me   2004, 5m, color, video, sound
KIMURA Takashi – Utsu-musume Sayuri, 2003, 4m, color, video, sound
UEHARA Miho – Awanono, 2003, 3m, color, 8mm on video, sound
SAITO Yukie – Benighted But Not Begun, 1994, 22m, b&w, in Japanese with English subtitles, 16mm, sound
TERAYAMA Shuji – An Introduction to Cinema for Boys and Young Men, 1974, 3m, color, 16mm triple projection

4 – Narrative Transgressions: Matsumoto Toshio

In 1955, Matsumoto Toshio’s now lost collaboration with avant-garde composer Takemitsu Toru, Silver Wheels, helped inaugurate post-war Japanese experimental film. Since then, Matsumoto has embodied the extraordinary adaptability of Japanese experimental video and film with a career that spans work in criticism, theatre, documentary, and experimental and independent filmmaking. In this program, we pay special homage to Matsumoto’s oeuvre with a screening of his draq-queen melodrama, Funeral Parade of Roses, a unique film that borrows the yet unpoliticized figure of male homosexuality in 1969 Japan to launch a potent critique of Japanese society at the apex of high-growth economics. Funeral Parade of Roses is an amazing film in its humorous amalgamation of documentary, narrative, and visual experimentation, and is increasingly recognized as one of the classics of Japan’s New Wave cinema. The film is followed by a triple-screen projection, For My Crushed Right Eye, the first multi-projection piece made in Japan. Together the films suggest the importance of sexuality, of fantasy, and of displacement for Matsumoto’s politics of social critique.

Expansion – 1972, 14m, color, 16mm, sound
Funeral Parade of Roses – 1969, 105m, b&w, 16mm, in Japanese with English subtitles, sound
For My Crushed Right Eye – 1968, 13m, 16mm triple projection, color, sound

5 – Contemporary Film, Video, and Animation

In the final program of JPEX, devoted to contemporary film, video, and animation, a complex interaction between the historical trajectory of Japanese avant-garde traditions and the current global economy of multi-media exchange is explored.  Ranging from the use of found footage to subversions of narrativity, from the revelation of hybrid sexualities to formal explorations of perception and space, these media-works question the dynamics of our visual-temporal experience.  Notions of national identity are expanded to reveal hybrid and shifting national and cultural identities.

WADA Junko – Peach Baby Oil, 1995, 16m, color, video (Super-8 original), in Japanese with English subtitles
HIRABAYASHI Isamu – Textism, 2003, 11m, video, color, sound
TAKASHI Sawa – Mathematica, 2000, 8m, 8mm on video, color, sound
ONITSUKA Kentaro – Blooming Ink Tale, 2003, 10m, color, 16mm on video, sound
ITO Ryusuke – Plate #23 (songs), 2003, 4m, color, 16mm, sound
NISHIKAWA Tomonari – Apollo, 2003, 6m, b&w, 16mm, sound
SUEOKA Ichiro – A flick film in which there appear Liz and Franky, is composed under the score of ARNULF RAINER by P. Kubelka on NTSC,  2000, video, 5min, sound, color
AOKI Tatsu – Decades Passed, 2003, 26m, color, 16mm, sound