Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Toru Takemitsu and the Japanese New Wave

Last Saturday (May 7) I saw:

Woman in the Dunes
Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara
Japan, 1964, b/w, 123 min.
With Eiji Okada, Kyôko Kishida, Hiroko Ito
Japanese with English subtitles

Based on the novel by Kobo Abe, this is the best known of the films adapted from his books in collaboration with Teshigahara. What struck me in particular about this is the effectiveness of rendering of life in the dunes via black and white film. The film simply would not have been as powerful, had color been used. So much of the atmosphere is created by the chiaroscuro of the light upon the sand. The film is a very close depiction of the novel. As for the eroticism, much is made of 'the human body as landscape'. The soundtrack, created by Toru Takemitsu, really reflects the solitude and punishing nature of the desert heat. It also contributes to the non-realistic atmosphere of the film. It is all shifting sand, skin and wind.

(Check for a review of another Kobo Abe and Hiroshi Teshighara collaboration:

The Man Who Left His Will On Film (aka The Battle of Tokyo)
Directed by Nagisa Oshima
Japan, 1970, color, 94 min.
Japanese with English subtitles

This is a strong film made with Oshima's own money, using friends of his as the principal actors. It monitors and documents a radical student movement as it attempts to formulate a kind of political film. The politically charged discussions between the pretentious Marxist Film School clique are witty and hilarious. (at one point it mentions that: 'Japan exists between the feudal and the modern and feels at home in neither of them so it takes refuge in the fetishes of childhood'. No truer words have been spoken.) Oshima easily integrates footage he took of Left-Wing demonstrations in Tokyo into his fiction film. It primarily concerns a couple, a man chasing his doppleganger, as he tries to come to terms with his girlfriend's love for him. Takemitsu's soundtrack is more sort of psychedelic and almost funky. These sounds plus the ultra politically dogmatic dialogue makes the viewer feel as if he or she is under the effects of a mind altering substance. Political theory and Art never felt cooler.

The programme notes describe the series as:

Toru Takemitsu and the Japanese New Wave

"Generally regarded as Japan's foremost contemporary composer, Toru Takemitsu produced over one hundred film scores during his career, working primarily with the masters of the Japanese New Wave. Directors such as Nagisa Oshima, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Masaki Kobayashi were able to achieve more poetic means of expression thanks in large part to Takemitsu's searching, unconventional accompaniments. The HFA celebrates the maestro who passed away in 1996 with a brief overview of his brilliant work as film composer" (

Takemitsu Tribute Concert

This program is co-presented with the Japan Society of Boston and The Boston Modern Orchestra Project. The Boston Modern Orchestra Project will present a premiere concert in tribute to Toru Takemitsu on May 27 at Jordan Hall. For more information and tickets, please visit or call 617.363.0396.

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