|Family Romance, LLC © Film Constellation|
From the bustle of neon-lit Shinjuku and its ultramodern skyscrapers to the traditional scenery of Mt. Fuji, cherry blossoms, and Shinto shrines, Tokyo has served as a source of creative inspiration for generations of international filmmakers. Anticipating the 2020 Summer Games, when the eyes of the world will once again fall upon Japan’s dynamic capital, Tokyo Stories: Japan in the Global Imagination considers the ways Japan—and the elusive concept of “Japaneseness” —is rendered and interpreted outside its borders with a revealing selection of Tokyo-set films by foreign directors, including Japanese co-productions, Hollywood blockbusters, and European arthouse favorites.
The series kicks off November 8th with Werner Herzog’s latest film Family Romance, LLC, a quasi-documentary narrative feature concerning the function of role-playing in matters of love and business, screening in New York for the first time since it debuted at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. Herzog is one of several non-Japanese filmmakers in the series—along with Abbas Kiarostami, Michel Gondry, and Bong Joon-ho—with films featuring all-Japanese casts, offering outsider perspectives in the guise of native speakers.
The majority of the series, however, is made up of films that make cultural difference and discovery their central subjects: poetic essay films chronicling first encounters (Wim Wenders’s Tokyo-Ga and Chris Markers’s Sans Soleil); Western narratives of self-discovery through a figurative embrace of the Japanese “other” (Dorris Dorrie’s Cherry Blossoms and Justin Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift); and works focused on the alienating limits of cross-cultural understanding (Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation and Alain Corneau’s Fear and Trembling).
The rarest screening in the lineup is a 35mm presentation of Tokyo Pop (1988), a largely forgotten and overlooked gem of American independent cinema co-written and directed by Fran Rubel Kuzui (Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The film follows a young New York singer (Carrie Hamilton) who moves to Tokyo and soon finds herself romantically and professionally involved with a Japanese rock ‘n’ roller (Yutaka Tadokoro aka Diamond Yukai) who enlists her as his band’s frontwoman. Unavailable on DVD or streaming, Japan Society’s November 22nd showing likely marks the first time Tokyo Pop will screen in New York since its 1988 theatrical run.
“Taken together, the films in this series offer fascinating insights into outside perceptions of Japanese values, customs, and scenery through the specific site of Tokyo, both as a constellation of symbols signifying ‘otherness’ and an actual geographic location,” says K. F. Watanabe, series curator and Deputy Director of Film at Japan Society. “From intimate familiarity and affection to degrees of exoticization and borderline xenophobia, the wide-ranging responses to foreign encounters with Japan embedded in these films also present an opportunity to consider the assumptions we bring to our own engagement with Japanese art and culture, whether as a Japanese, outsider, or someone in-between.”
Tokyo Stories: Japan in the Global Imagination is part of Japan Society’s year-long, institution-wide Passing the Torch series and is organized in conjunction with the exhibition Made in Tokyo: Architecture and Living, 1964/2020, on view through Jan. 26.