Instead, the film series, titled "Japan 1960: Classical Cinema Meets the New Wave," is an opportunity to see seven of the greatest Japanese films of the year. Rarely screened in the U.S., they represent the idiosyncratic artistic visions of seven highly respected directors, providing a multi-faceted view of a nation in the throes of modernization and social upheaval.
The man behind the event is Jim Reichert, assistant professor of Japanese literature in Stanford's Department of Asian Languages. "When I was a grad student at the University of Michigan, they always had a Japanese film festival," Reichert said. "It was a great way to introduce people to Japanese culture."
Reichert points out that the motion picture industry in Japan is just as old as in the U.S. "During the 1920s and '30s, Japan was the largest film-producing nation in the world," he said.
In 2003, Reichert organized Stanford's first Japanese film series, focused on the films of director Yasujiro Ozu. Two years later, the second installment featured movies starring Kinuyo Tanaka. The Japanese film series is now a biennial event, hosted by the Department of Asian Languages.
For this year's series, Reichert has taken a different tack, choosing a single landmark year -- Japan produced more feature films in 1960 than in any year before or since. He also chose films that reflect, in his words, "the depth and variety of the Japanese film industry." By including mature films by such established pre-war directors as Mikio Naruse and Ozu alongside works by emerging artists including Shohei Imamura and Nagisa Oshima, he hopes to capture a sense of the dynamic spirit of the industry at the time.
The stylistic differences are perhaps most evident between Ozu's "Late Autumn" and Oshima's "Cruel Story of Youth." In "Late Autumn" three middle-aged men play at matchmaking, trying to marry off an attractive widow and her reluctant daughter. Ozu's pace is measured, his palette subdued, his carefully composed interiors almost painfully symmetrical. In contrast, "Cruel Story of Youth," a shocking portrayal of nihilistic youth culture, is an explosion of highly saturated color, violent action, and raw emotion.
Of course, the contrast between these two films highlights more than the artistic tastes of their directors. It also reveals an emerging generation gap in Japanese society in 1960, strikingly similar to that in the United States.
Since six of the seven movies that Reichert has chosen are set in or shortly before 1960, this year's film series presents many such insights: glimpses of ancient traditions and values in flux as Japan moved from a period of post-war reconstruction toward its modern role as a global economic giant.
At the contemporary end of the spectrum is "The Bad Sleep Well" by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa.
Kurosawa is known in the U.S. primarily for period dramas such as "Ran" and "The Seven Samurai" (the latter of which was remade as the 1960 Hollywood western "The Magnificent Seven"). But "The Bad Sleep Well" was ripped-from-the-headlines modern. A story of corruption and revenge surrounding a major corporate scandal, it could be set in the 1990s almost as easily as in 1960.
At the other end of the spectrum is "The Island," a "cinematic poem" by avant-garde director Kaneto Shindo. A film with no dialogue, "The Island" presents, often in painful detail, the day-to-day struggle of a farming family living a pre-industrial lifestyle on a small island in the Inland Sea, a short ferry ride from the modernized Japanese mainland.
Another recurring theme in the series is the changing aspirations of women amid centuries-old social constraints. Ozu's and Oshima's films explore this territory, as does Naruse's "When a Woman Ascends the Stairs," a poignant depiction of the tenuous lives of seemingly glamorous Ginza bar hostesses.
The remaining films in the series are Shohei Imamura's "Hogs and Battleships" -- a dark yet engaging satire about a naive yakuza gang member's scheme to raise pigs on table scraps from a U.S. military base -- and Kon Ichikawa's "Her Brother," which Reichert describes as a "stark depiction of a dysfunctional prewar family."
All films are 35 mm prints with English subtitles. Screenings will be held on Friday evenings at 7:30 at Stanford's Cubberley Auditorium. Reichert will give a brief introduction to each film, and, he is pleased to note, most of the films will be proceeded by their original theatrical trailers.
Further details can be found at the blog that Reichert has created for this year's series (www.japan1960.blogspot.com). In addition to providing information, the Web site will allow viewers to post comments and questions about the films. Reichert hopes that it will be "a way to get a conversation going" after each screening.
What: "Japan 1960: Classic Cinema Meets the New Wave," a film series hosted by Stanford's Department of Asian Languages
Where: Cubberley Auditorium, 485 Lasuen Mall, Stanford University
When: Fridays at 7:30 p.m., April 13 through June 1 (no screening on April 20)
Info: Go to www.japan1960.blogspot.com
This story contains 907 words.
Stories older than 90 days are available only to subscribing members. Please help sustain quality local journalism by becoming a subscribing member today.
If you are already a member, please log in so you can continue to enjoy unlimited access to stories and archives. Membership starts at $12 per month and may be cancelled at any time.