Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bitchin' Wakamatsu Koji Series this Month!

Hi Blog,

My programming for the Cinefamily (aka. The Silent Movie Theater) here in LA, continues with a pretty awesome seven-film Wakamatsu Koji series that kicks off this coming Wednesday with the masterful UNITED RED ARMY. (And that was a long sentence!) The series will then go on to run for the first three FRIDAYS in NOVEMBER, offering a pretty great selection of films (almost all collaborations with leftist political radical screenwriter Adachi Masao) -- some of which have never played in Los Angeles before.

The films, in order, are:

1. UNITED RED ARMY: Wednesday Nov. 4th 8pm

2. SHINJUKU MAD: Friday Nov. 7th, 7pm (Double Feature ONE)
3. ECSTASY OF THE ANGELS: Friday Nov. 7th 830pm (Double Feature ONE)

4. GO, GO SECOND TIME VIRGIN: Friday Nov. 14th, 7pm (Double Feature TWO)
5. RUNNING IN MADNESS, DYING IN LOVE (LA Premier and, oh yeah, what a fucking cool title?): Friday Nov. 14th, 8:30pm (Double Feature TWO)

6. VIOLATED ANGELS: Friday Nov. 21st, 7pm (Double Feature THREE)
7. VIOLENT VIRGIN: Friday Nov. 21st, 8:30pm (Double Feature THREE)

Here're the film write-ups I did for the series (with some copy-editing and some additional notes done by the editors up at the Cinefamily):


Divisive, exploitative, cruel, vengeful, erotic, political, provocative, avant-garde -- Koji Wakamatsu is all these things, and a ridiculous amount more. A country bumpkin who wandered his way through the Yakuza and into one of the most prolific directing careers in Japan, Wakamatsu has created an unsurpassed, massive filmography of unique and disobedient works. While inextricably connected to the pinku eiga (Japanese soft-core film), Wakamatsu himself has always insisted that his films were something more. Certainly they contain copious amounts of sex and nudity, but this often was a cover for leftist political diatribes decrying Japan’s imperial inclinations, and its subservience to US foreign affairs on Asian politics. Now in his seventies and having produced more than 200 films in his career, Wakamatsu and his uncompromising worldview show no signs of slowing. In addition to his latest epic transgression, United Red Army (2008), The Cinefamily is thrilled to present six of Wakamatsu's other treasures -- some of which have never before screened in America!

United Red Army

"Consensus is boring." -- Koji Wakamatsu

For 35 years, director Koji Wakamatsu has been mulling over what happened to the idealism and moral imperative of the far left Japanese student movement that left a rash of dead bodies and unanswered questions, and his latest film is as close to his heart as Schindler's List was for Spielberg. In the unflinchingly violent United Red Army, Wakamatsu dramatizes the self-immolation of the fiercest of Japan's underground paramilitary groups, who, in the early '70s, after internal strife led to the murders of fourteen of its own twenty-nine members, fled to a remote mountain location and instigated a police standoff which lives in infamy to this day. No stranger to radical politics, Wakamatsu not only drew from interviews with surviving URA members, but also from his own street-level experiences with the URA and other subversive organizations at the time -- affiliations which landed him on the U.S. State Department's no-visa blacklist, where he remains to this day. Backed by a searing psych rock score by former Sonic Youth member Jim O'Rourke, United Red Army is a film that doesn’t pretend to have the answers, but is instead an epic dissection of ideology can trump reason.

11/7 @ 7pm / SERIES: koji wakamatsu: sexfilmrevolution
Shinjuku Mad
shown with
Ecstasy of the Angels

With a sensationally violent and squelchy opening that sets up the plot of a father searching for his child’s murderer through the Shinjuku underworld, Shinjuku Mad never lets up its relentless assault as the blood flies, the bodies pile and the suffocating alienation multiplies like H1N1 in a school playground, all while Japanese '70s space rock band Food Brain provides harrowing cuts of fuzzy skronk on the soundtrack. The film was embraced by college students, artists and intellectuals upon its release, for its abrasive style and its honest countercultural insight (hippies and bikers are to be equally mistrusted!) Scripted by Wakamatsu’s partner in crime and leftist political radical, Masao Adachi, this film is purportedly one of Wakamatsu’s personal favorites for its "…vicarious portrait of Swinging Shinjuku in its vibrant heyday, making full use of local landmarks…" One of six(!) films Wakamatsu released in 1970.

Ecstasy of the Angels, a jarring exercise in experimental cinema clothed in pink film trappings, trails a leftist terrorist unit that, after a failed attempt to steal weapons from a US military base, learns that they might have been set up to fail by their parent organization. Dispensing with conventional storytelling, Wakamatsu plunges the viewer into a melange of political dissertations, rough and sweaty sex, explosions and swanky nightclubs. Though it certainly looks and feels like an exploitation picture, Ecstasy clearly has much more on its mind. The infusion of radical politics into the head-spinning assault of nudity and gore makes for a very odd experience, and the rapid shifts in time, film stock (black and white alternating with colour), sound effects, and character affiliations make this a dense, truly rewarding hour and a half. Ecstasy was Wakamatsu's biggest production to date -- a fact that guaranteed that the film was still released even though the government viewed him as an instigator of violence and anarchy.

11/14 @ 7pm / SERIES: koji wakamatsu: sexfilmrevolution
Go, Go Second Time Virgin
shown with
Running In Madness, Dying In Love

An allegory for the end of the hippie movement? For the impotence of youth against the crushing oppression of a chaotic world? Or a cruel reflection of society’s self-destruction during the chaos of the 1960s? It’s up to you to draw your own conclusion, for Go, Go Second Time Virgin's grim teen rebellion has explosive impact that defies conventions. In the film, two psychologically battered teenagers of the opposite sex meet on a desolate urban rooftop and bare their psychic scars to each other. The boy feels a mixture of arousal and anguish when he sees the girl unclothed following a gang rape on the rooftop (in which he was a partial participant) but their relationship becomes far more devastating and perverse than a forced sexual encounter. Though running barely over an hour, Go, Go... packs a tremendous amount of artistry into every scene, as Wakamatsu gives us one of his most visceral and intensely focused works.

Lesser-known but still packing a mad punch, Running In Madness... tells of a student activist who is forced to flee Tokyo with his sister-in-law after he inadvertently shoots his police officer brother at a protest rally. We follow the two as they travel north to their hometown of Hokkaido, across a majestic winter landscape. Shot in a stellar psychedelic style and scripted by frequent collaborator Masao Adachi, the story was influenced by Adachi’s time spent with master director Nagisa Oshima, which led to Adachi's development of a more rigorous, formal approach to his work. Running In Madness is one of the first Japanese films to employ "Landscape Theory" (fukei-ron), a style of storytelling, according to Adachi, in which "all the landscapes one faces in...daily life, even those such as the beautiful sites shown on a postcard, are essentially related to the figure of a ruling power."

11/21 @ 7:30pm / SERIES: koji wakamatsu: sexfilmrevolution
Violated Angels
shown with
Violent Virgin

One of Koji Wakamatsu’s more infamous productions (and inspired by the real-life case of Richard Speck's 1960s student nurse killing spree in Chicago,) Violated Angels is a compact celluloid acid trip into one man’s derangement as he kills a group of nurses and regresses to a child-like state. Acting more as a protest piece than Grand Guignol debauchery -- although it strongly delivers the goods in that department, with shocking deaths filmed in lurid color by Hideo Ito (In The Realm of the Senses), and a bevy of ravaged beauties -- the film draws a strong analogy between the man’s dehumanized actions and the Vietnam War protest movement going on concurrently with its production in 1967. Filmed Corman-style in less than one week in order to seize upon the wave of publicity wafting off of the Speck murders, this melancholy mini-masterpiece plunges the viewer headlong into ice-cold madness.

Easily the most divisive film in this series, Violent Virgin is guaranteed to bewilder, titillate and spark debate in the theater lobby. Shot on a punishingly low budget and tight schedule, the film follows the bizarre ritual of a group of Yakuza and their female companions, who all go to the countryside to punish their boss’s unfaithful mistress and her chinpira (low-level Yakuza) lover. A simple-enough scenario for your average twisted pink film, but Wakamatsu, never one to take the straight and narrow path, grabs the material by its neck and yanks it into a Jodorowsky-esque realm of Christ symbology, dream logic and all-around bat-shit insanity. As well, it's all couched inside another nod to underground political struggles, as the Japanese title, Shojo Geba Geba (reportedly suggested by Nagisa Oshima) refers to the German word "Gewalt", linked specifically to violence from student protestors. Filled with sex and cruelty, as well as Wakamatsu's trademark fantastic eye for black-and-white images, Violent Virgin is one of the headiest and rawest works in all of late '60s Japanese cinema.
More info on the Cinefamily website. See you there!

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