A series of Japanese films, presented by John Zorn
Why Japan? He could have seen “Throne of Blood” at the United Nations International School in 1968, when he was 14 or 15 years old. Or maybe it was just in the air – her dad’s favorite movie was “Yojimbo,” also directed by Akira Kurosawa, and her mom’s was Kaneto Shindo’s “Naked Island.”
Be that as it may, the young John Zorn, who would go on to become an incredibly prolific avant-garde composer, musician, producer and record label owner, also became an aficionado of Japanese films (as well as music, calligraphy and cuisine of this country). “Japanese culture appealed to me early on,” he said via email this week during a break from the recording studio. “Perhaps because of the deep sense of poetic resonance and visual style.”
As if he wasn’t busy enough already, Mr. Zorn, 61, found time to indulge his affection by scheduling a five-part monthly series at the Japan Society called The Dark Side of the Sun: John Zorn on Japanese Cinema. It begins Saturday night with Atsushi Yamatoya’s “Inflatable Sex Doll of the Wastelands” (1967), one of the best-known examples of the category known as pinku eiga or pink movies.
“One of the challenges in choosing movies for this series was finding movies that hadn’t been screened at the Japan Society before,” he said. He was delighted to find that “Sex Doll” was eligible “because it’s a huge underground cult film in Japan, on the level of maybe ‘El Topo'”.
“Sex Doll” begins as a tough noir about a badass hired to find a businessman’s kidnapped girlfriend. (Since this is a rosy flick, proof of life is provided by home movie clips in which she writhes topless while being stomped on by hooded thugs.) It moves fast. in an edgy dream space, however, jumping in time and space and layering over motifs from Greek drama and Bunuelian surrealism, all set to a taut jazz score by Yosuke Yamashita.
The Japanese pink genre is often equated with soft-core pornography, but it has “no relation to erotica in the rest of the world,” Zorn said. “These are fully realized films, often made with great artistry and fabulous imagination. They proved to be proving grounds for many visionary young directors who later branched out into more traditional projects. One of them was Yoshimitsu Morita, whose comedic and erotic coming-of-age story “Top Stripper” will air on December 11.
None of the films in Mr. Zorn’s series come from the Japanese Kurosawa-Ozu-Mizoguchi canon. “Crossroads” on November 15 is a 1928 tragedy by great silent film director Teinosuke Kinugasa. January’s entry, “Matango” (1963), is a nuclear monster movie from “Godzilla” director Ishiro Honda. The series’ February finale is the most unusual: eight short films by anime godfather and “Astroboy” creator Osamu Tezuka and a three-part promotional film for an Isuzu sedan made in 1964 by the longtime provocateur. date Nagisa Oshima (“Cruel Story of Youth”, “In the Realm of the Senses”).
“Japanese culture was always in my house growing up,” Zorn said, but it wasn’t until he traveled the country in the 1980s that he discovered the wide range of Japanese films in apart from recognized arthouse monuments. Bringing videotapes back to New York, he hosted earlier screenings of Dark Side of the Sun at downtown venues like Anthology Film Archives. Several decades later, he reboots the series in more formal uptown digs, but his choices are more adventurous than ever.