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March 3, 2017

Three Radical Japanese Filmmakers

Experimental film goes by many names in Japanese. Each of the existing terms—zen’ei eiga (avant-garde film), undåguraundo eiga (underground film), jikken eiga (experiment film), and others—points to a different phase in the exploration of the possibilities of film.

The highly deliberate use of experimental film as a utopian project and as a weapon for radical political struggle in Japan has deep connections to the student movement. The initial fermenting ground of the Nihon University Cinema Club in the late 1950s created a wildfire that spread quickly. While festivals of European and North American experimental film in Tokyo’s legendary Sogetsu Hall in 1966 left a strong impact, by this time an immensely sophisticated and well-networked coalition of artists had already created an intricate ecosystem of radical experimental arts and their theorization. The late 1960s saw artists that were internationally connected and plugged into movements such as Fluxus, yet also always aware of the local contexts in Japan they needed to address. This tension produced complex works full of energy, beauty, and a spirit of resistance. Despite their enormous influence at the time, the films have only recently been restored for audiences today to see. Researcher and curator Go Hirasawa has been at the forefront of efforts to recover this history and presents several seminal works in this program. – Alexander Zahlten, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard

The screening takes place in conjunction with a free workshop at the HFA on the preservation and circulation of noncorporate film on Saturday, March 4 from 9:30am to 1pm, and with HFA’s Hachimiri Madness! program April 21 – May 22.

Film descriptions by Go Hirasawa.

All film prints courtesy respective filmmakers.

Introduction by Go Hirasawa
Friday March 3 at 8pm

Motoharu Jonouchi was instrumental in the formation and gathering of multiple art and anti-art endeavors, including the Nihon University Cinema Club, VAN Film Science Research Center and the Neo-Dadaists, often sharing work space and living with others to establish a center of creative exchange. Gewaltopia Trailer and Shinjuku Station, part of the “Gewaltopia” (gewalt=violence+utopia) series, are both born from student movements at Nihon University around 1968. In their meticulous assemblage of individual shots of different spaces imbued with the symbolic significance of political confrontation, they reject the theatrics of spectacle, instead establishing a radical materialism in both structure and methodology.

Gewaltopia Trailer

Directed by Motoharu Jonouchi
Japan 1969 , 16mm, b/w, 13 min


Shinjuku Station

Directed by Motoharu Jonouchi
Japan 1974 , 16mm, b/w, 14 min


Great Society

Directed by Masanori Oe and Marvin Fishman
US 1967, digital video, color & b/w, 18 min

Masanori Oe moved to New York after graduating from college in 1966 and began working at Third World film studio with filmmakers like Jonas Mekas and Stan Vanderbeek. After meeting Marvin Fishman at Studio M2, they worked together on Great Society, which is made up of collaged newsreel footage of the Vietnam War, the psychedelic and civil rights movements, and other events—projecting 60s America on six screens with an appropriately overwhelming nuclear finale.


Phenomenology of Zeitgeist

Directed by Rikuro Miyai
Japan 1967, digital video, b/w, 35 min

Rikuro Miyai participated in "Group Image Art (Eizo Geijutsu no Kai)"—a group of avant-garde documentary filmmakers that included Toshio Matsumoto and Shinkichi Noda, among others—and organized the "Unit Pro" film production outfit in the middle of the 1960s. Phenomenology of Zeitgeist documents a "planned happening" set in the city of Shinjuku, from Unit Pro’s office to the action by performance group Zero-Dimension (Zero-Jigen) in front of the Kinokuniya bookshop. Shown in unique multi-screen, it became a masterpiece of documentary and expanded cinema in Japan.

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