With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013
With Dada Chen at NYAFF 2013

Thursday, February 19, 2015

U.S. Premiere of Nagisa Oshima's IT'S ME HERE, BELLETT and 8 experimental shorts by Osamu Tezuka tomorrow evening at Japan Society

It’s Me Here, Bellett / Watashi no Beretto
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Japan, 1964
When: Friday, February 20, 2015 at 7:00 pm
Where: Japan Society
333 East 47th Street, NYC
(Between 1st and 2nd Avenues)
U.S. Premiere

Tomorrow night will mark the final event of The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema film series, which has been marked by "lesser-known or unknown works" selected by the musician, composer and arranger. His picks have been idiosyncratic and quirky, to say the least, and this program is no exception. I had the good fortune to watch what will be shown on DVD screeners, so here's my report.

The main event is the U.S. premiere of Nagisa Oshima's It’s Me Here, Bellett. The Bellett was a sedan car that Isuzu began manufacturing in 1963. This mid-length movie is part of a promotional film originally made for television that was produced by the Directors Guild of Japan for Isuzu. This screening consists of three episodes directed by Nagisa Oshima, long before In the Realm of the Senses (1976) and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence (984).

The first is about a two lovers whose romantic weekend is ruined over a quarrel, part of which involves the man's love for his Bellett. The second vignette is about an aspiring actor who buys a Bellett based on the advice of a powerful female producer, played by Akiko Koyama, Oshima’s wife. The final segment is about a male office worker who wants to end an affair with a female co-worker and devote himself to his wife. Again, a Bellett features prominently in the story line. (It should be mentioned that I also found it interesting that cigarette smoking is also very prominent. A sign of years gone by, I guess.)

As this is the first official screening of It’s Me Here, Bellett in the U.S., it's pretty much a must-see for Oshima fans, though it's far from the canon for which he is most well known. General viewers will probably find it a quaint period piece, an interesting time capsule, if you will.

The screening of Oshima's film will be preceded by 8 Experimental Shorts by Osamu Tezuka. Five were made during the 1960s, two in 1987, and the final short, "Self-Portrait" (a 13 second riff on the one-armed bandits at casinos) in1988. "The Genesis" (1968, 3 minutes) is an alternate take on the story of creation as told in the Old Testament and somewhat of a spoof on John Huston's 1966 epic, The Bible: In the Beginning. My personal favorite was "Muramasa" (1987, 8 minutes). Partially this is because it's a samurai tale. The other reason is that it is "pure" animation, having no dialogue whatsoever. The images are beautifully drawn and the only audio is flute and percussion accompaniment.

All eight of these experimental shorts were fascinating and most enjoyable to watch.

Tickets for Friday evening's program are $9 for Japan Society members, seniors & students, $12 for the others.

For complete program information, including descriptions of each of the Tezuka shorts, and to order tickets, click here.

Image © Tezuka Productions.

Oh, and don't forget about the special family-friendly screening of Legend of the Forest, Parts 1 and 2 on Saturday, February 21st at 2:00 pm. The first film was directed by Osamu Tezuka, the sequel by his son Macoto Tezka based on his father's notes and synopsis. Info and tickets here.

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