The Sion Sono a/k/a Jônetsu tairiku Presents Sono Shion to iu ikimono
Each year The Japan Society here in NYC shows a series of Japanese films right after The New York Asian Film Festival wraps up. This year the NYAFF wrapped up on July 9th, and on July 14th Japan Cuts, The Japan Society's showcase on Japanese films, started. Back in the day (a few years ago) NYAFF and Japan Cuts would co-sponsor some of the films, and after a few days of them co-presenting films, Japan Cuts would finish out its run on its own. That was where I saw my first Sion Sono film, called Exte. The guy that programmed Japan Cuts and worked with NYAFF eventually left The Japan Society to join NYAFF exclusively, and their ties were severed.
As a film lover, and a fan of focusing on a particular director's work, this year has been pretty great. On top of a month long retrospective on Brian De Palma at The Metrograph, I also got to see De Palma, the documentary that basically spends 2 hours letting De Palma talk about his own movies and his love for other movies. De Palma has always been a director who has been one of my favorites, not because his hit to miss ratio is so good, but because when he does have a hit it's pretty fucking amazing.
Another director I have been obsessing over is Sion Sono, but for a very different reason. Out of the 10 films I have seen that he has directed, I have yet to leave the theater feeling like I wasted my time, or that the movie was bad. Although none of the 10 or so I have seen has hit the heights of the 4 De Palma films I think are near perfect, at least 4 of Sion Sono's movies have come pretty close. The other 6 may not have been great, but they were solid pieces of entertainment, even when they are overly long, badly filmed, or just plain insane. I am NOT a fan of the epic, meaning, I generally think most movies should be about 90 minutes long. Two hours tops, with very very rare exceptions. I have now seen 2 Sion Sono films that were overly long, Bad Film and Love Exposure. Bad Film found him revisiting footage he took on a Hi-8 camera in the 1990's, mostly improv stuff, and combined with some new footage he made an almost 3 hour long film. Love Exposure is almost 4 hours long, and while I can sit through 5 movies in a row, sitting through one 4 hour movie generally would be torture to me. Somehow I enjoyed both these films, regardless of how much I feel I should have hated them.
So when I found out that at Japan Cuts this year there was a documentary on Sion Sono, I was excited. I also found out that they were debuting his movie called The Whispering Star, a black and white sci-fi film, which is unlikely to get any real release in the US. The thought of seeing these back to back made me a very happy camper.
The documentary follows the director for roughly a year, starting with his doing some painting for a gallery opening, to his filming of The Whispering Star. It also follows the documentary formula by telling us a bit about his history, his movies, his friends and family and his career. We hear from his wife, some of the actors he has used in the past, his sister, his high school friends, and even a producer he worked with a long time ago. He talks about art, drinking, being a virgin, painting, his troubles in the film industry and what he is up to.
Much of the film focuses on a project very near to his heart, a movie called The Whispering Star. It is a movie he wrote 20 years ago, but recently updated it to include the Fukushima disaster, where the nuclear plant in Japan ruptured due to an earthquake and tsunami. He filmed much of it in the quarantine zone, with local residents who were displaced from their homes.
This documentary helps shed light on his working process, and how he feels about his art and output. He is obviously a very determined man, one who never gave up regardless of how much was in his way for much of the time. We get to see how he interacts with his wife and others in his life, and hear his musings on all sorts of topics. He is obviously a lover of the arts, whether it be books, music, movies or fine art.
The film touches on enough topics that it did make me feel like I now know his and his reasons for being much more than I did in the past. Before this I knew some of his movies, but little about the director himself. Although my preference for a film like this is much more linear in both timeline and style, this movie did not fail to entertain me and give me a sense of who the man behind the lens is.
8 out of 10 stars.
Location : The Japan Society, in NYC
Date and time : Saturday July 16th, 2016 at 2:30 PM
Format : DCP
Audience :Maybe half full, but the crowd seemed to be enjoying it.