Friday, October 17, 2008

Kiyoshi Kurosawa at the New York Film Festival

At the October 9 New York Film Festival screening of Tokyo Sonata, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa appeared briefly before the film began to complement the Ziegfeld: “There’s no way my movie can compete with this palace,” he said through his translator (also the film’s subtitler). He later added, “This [film] reflects the Tokyo I live in. The production crew tried to make the shabby part of town look suitable for film—but they’ll lose out to Ziegfeld.”

After the screening, he participated in a Q&A with the audience. What follows are the minutes of that session, captured as best as I could. Questions and answers may contain spoilers. Direct quotes are noted; the rest is paraphrase. The interview was conducted through the director’s translator, as Kurosawa speaks very little English.


Why does the film end with ‘Clair de Lune’?
(asked by Film Comment editor, and Q&A moderator, Kent Jones)
The director wanted a piece of music commensurate to the age/skill level of the performer, as well as something not too long so the piece could run in its entirety. Most importantly though, he said, was to find a piece complex enough that it would be difficult for a child to interpret—to find something beyond his age level emotionally.

Were you influenced by Death of a Salesman?
Kurosawa chortled. “I know it’s really famous, I think it’s a play but I never read it.” He said he was flattered by the comparison though because the play is so famous, and he promised to read it right away.

What neighborhood did you shoot in? It didn’t look so shabby.
It’s not the most beautiful of cinematic neighborhood in Tokyo, Kurosawa said, but he’s already shot in every other part of the city, so he made a film in the areas he’d said he never would. Tokyo is arranged like a series of rings, with a center and then outskirts. The inner ring, around the center (where the film is set), is not all that aesthetically pleasing, he said, with visible electrical wires and crammed houses. Also: “I had never ever wanted to make a movie in the shopping mall…and I’ll never do it again.”

Does a dissatisfaction with traditional roles exist in modern Japan, as appears in the film?
It’s not just the Japanese—many people want to run from defined roles but are terrified of discovering that they don’t know who they are. So people are increasingly adopting simple roles, especially in urban centers. He said he shot the movie in December 2007 and hasn’t shot anything since. “I tell myself to assuage my anxiety that I’m a still a movie director…so I have anxieties, too.”

As the film isn’t a paranormal or ghost story, like Cure or Pulse, does this signal a change in direction?
“I’m sure I will” return to horror films, he said, but he has no real plans yet. He hopes to return to horror films with a fresh perspective. Or to develop Tokyo Sonata’s themes in a new way—not repetitively. Kurosawa also expressed resentment that his movies get lumped together as “horror films”.

The ending is a huge release. Did you do that as a favor to the audience?
“I appreciate your insight,” Kurosawa said. He said each character has a secret that, when shared, transforms into a fight. The end is a chunk of time that allows the characters to focus on one person and absorb the music.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Doctor Atomic

Date of Performance: 9 October 2008 (Dress Rehearsal)
Official site

One of composer John Adams’ “CNN operas,” Doctor Atomic uses a topic from the relatively recent past — here, weapons of mass destruction — to address the political present. Adams said he believes such cultural relevance will give opera a future; that is, it could reconnect estranged (American) audiences to the medium, lower the enskied art form to the level of the everyday intellectual.

But even if that were true, the thoroughly modern music is bound to re-alienate them. In Doctor Atomic, Los Alamos scientists Oppenheimer, Robert Wilson and Edward “Dr. Strangelove” Teller, along with assorted military brass, struggle to build and test a working A-bomb while weighing the ethical implications of what they’re doing. As with Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Doctor Atomic’s second half is far superior to its first, as it builds to a wrenching climax of boundless destruction in a single flash of light. But both acts suffer from the same problems: the operamakers’ pompous allusions, awkward libretto and abstruse score.

Keep reading at The L Magazine blog.