Shinya Tsukamoto, a film artist

Shinya Tsukamoto, more than a director, more than a scriptwriter, more than an actor, more like an artist; with a vast career in filmmaking, as well as acting, Shinya Tsukamoto is one of the most renowned names of the contemporary Japanese cinema. A unique and interesting figure, Tsukamoto maintained throughout his career his status as an independent filmmaker, avoiding to pledge his name to any of the big Nippon film companies, although his own company Keijyu Theatre associated with Third Window Films for digitalizing his earlier works captured on film.

Born on 1st of January 1960, Shinya Tsukamoto discovered his passion for films at the age of 14 when his father brought home a Super 8 camera. The possibilities of translating reality as well as depicting one’s fantasies, believes and inner world through the dynamic filmic medium, fascinated young Tsukamoto who instilled even his early amateur projects with a personal style which later became his trademark. He experienced theatre as well, by starting an independent theatre group, and worked for a television advertising company in the few years when he wasn’t making films.

Working independently, without outer founding, was and still is, for Tsukamoto and his usually limited crew a whole adventure, a difficult but exciting process of getting the best out of little resources. However, this approach of making films has its perks. Freedom; the exhilarating sense of freedom, the possibility of following one’s instincts, and impulses in an uncensored expression of self, is a privilege which Tsukamoto always indulged himself, and actually not only a privilege, but more a creed which moulded his cinematographic works. Working with young and inexperienced volunteers, when the budget did not permit to pay true professionals, reinforced Tsukamoto’s pathos from his earlier days.

Shinya Tsukamoto is definitely what one would call a film auteur. From his debut underground, cyberpunk, sci-fi, horror, cult film Tetsuo: The Iron Man (1989), Tsukamoto worked on every aspect of its films from directing to acting, to editing, to designing the costumes, building the settings and drawing the storyboard, his films are his own in the most denotative sense of the word. Filmmaker Shinya Tsukamoto embraced all of these roles which for him are more than intertwined with the same thrills every time. Followed by 2 sequels Tetsuo 2: Body Hammer (1992) and Tetsuo 3: Bullet Man (2009), Tetsuo, might be the most resonant name from Tsukamoto’s cinematography. Based in an industrialising Tokyo, the director’s first 16mm film, conceived when the underground cyberpunk genre was shyly starting to flourish is an industrial horror, a nightmarish trip of guilt, lust, desperation, alienation, and acceptance. The relation between human and machine has been a topic of interest ever since Fritz Lang brought to the screen his mechanical Maria in the silent Metropolis (1927), but Tsukamoto’s approach of this idea was completely new. He does not create a robot. He does not show in his film an animated silhouette of metal made by some queer scientist, not even by far. Tsukamoto brings metal and human flesh together into an agonising hybrid of warm blood and screws, pulsating organs and hard steel, soft skin and iron, who returns to its primary instincts and urges while turning into the Iron Man. Often linked with David Lynch’s industrial nightmare, Eraserhead (1977), and David Cronenberg’s filmed metamorphose, The Fly (1986), Tetsuo: The Iron Man’s pace is much faster than the one in Eraserhead, which leaves the viewer with a feeling of not catching up with the film. Tsukamoto also avoids the Kafkaesque metamorphose of human into another breathing creature, while still maintaining the absurdity specific to Kafka.

The obsession of industrialisation, the fear of the city dehumanising its residents followed Tsukamoto ever since Tetsuo until his 2004 film Vital. Tokyo Fist, Bullet Ballet, the other 2 Tetsuo, all explore the effects of the urban environment, of the concrete blocks, of the skyscrapers, of the reflecting windows, of the cars, the factories, the computers, the routine of the hours spent in an enclosed office, of the underground train, and cemented alleys on the humanity of the metropolis’s inhabitants, and their romantic relationships. Tsukamoto is a master of alienation and rediscovery through a primordial violence. The city oppresses one’s most human, flesh desires, one’s sexuality, one’s rage, one’s love, and Tsukamoto’s films capture the struggle of being the only breathing organism between cemented walls. The violence in his films does not have a negative connotation, is a cry of desperation, a test of humanity, when the characters harm themselves they do not do it to die, but to feel alive; the proximity of death just makes them feel more alive.

This era of cinematographic creation had yet an end, and that end started with A Snake of June (2002), a project which haunted the director even before the first Tetsuo, and was marked by Vital (2004). Industrial elements specific to Tsukamoto can still be found in A Snake of June, but these are in contrast with natural and organic elements (rain, plants, snails) which enhance the whole sexual feeling of the film. A Snake of June was meant to be an erotic film, and while the erotic sense is conveyed even through the blue tint of the images, the film is also a piece on self-discovery, on self-acceptance through the embrace of the flesh, and the consciousness of death. Vital is also a route of death, love, eroticism, pain where the natural, the organic element is the human body itself as a counterpoint of the whole universe. Tetsuo 3 is a reminiscence of his previous era. Made for an American public, the film which was initially asked by Quentin Tarantino, aimed for a bigger public, and is his first English film.

Tsukamoto eventually changed to digital film, change which had a certain influence on his style. Kotoko (2012) is at a first sight nothing like his previous films. The subject is so utterly different, a psychologically disturbed woman’s struggle with her statute of being a mother might trick the viewer, but the violence as a proof of life, the contrasts, the cracks in the narrative, the nightmarish visions are all there. It is visually different, sound wise as well, but it revives the idea of dance and music as the perfect state of the human, first expressed in Vital, and it has the same acute intensity of any other Tsukamoto films. Maybe even more, as this film is of a special importance for the director due to his relationship with Cocco, the Japanese singer who played and shaped the main character.

His last film, Fires on the Plain (2014), also holds a particular meaning to Shinya Tsukamoto. Being an adaptation of the book with same title by Shohei Ooka (1951), Tsukamoto was deeply impressed by the tragic war novel, and pursuit his own research in regards to the Second World War, by talking with war veterans and traveling to the Philippines jungle to see with his own eyes the sites were the action of the book was taking place. It is a tragic, violent, grotesque story of war. Set in the wild and heavenly natural background of the Philippines, the film follows its protagonist descending into despair and madness, running from an unseen enemy and resorting to inhumanly deeds for survival. It might not be a beautiful film, but it is true and touching, like most of Tsukamoto’s films. War is not beautiful, it destroys with no purpose the very thing which makes humans humans, it strips people of their hopes, of their smiles, of their beauty turning them into cruel beasts. Tsukamoto wanted to represent the war, the alienation, the anxiety, the fear, the fury, and rage, the despair and the way the experience of war does not disappear when the event itself ends but haunts its protagonists forever like a suffocating shadow of memories, and he succeeded majestically. The film came at a certain point in Japan when the perception of war was changing, a moment which Shinya Tsukamoto felt was vital for the existence of his film.

Tsukamoto acted in the main role of Fires on the Plain, more out of financial necessity, but his career as an actor is also well known, especially after the last film in which he starred, Martin Scorsese’s Silence (2016). Scorsese being one of his favourite directors, among Akira Kurosawa, Ridley Scott, Shohei Inamura, Tsukamoto put his soul into his role, giving an exquisite performance, as he does in his own films, where the intensity of his characters pierces the screen.

After this short incursion in what is an impressive career of an artist, I can only end by stating that Shinya Tsukamoto’s films are not just cinematographic images unwinding on a screen, but experiences. With their bizarre imagery, the stop-motion frames, the expressionist and surreal touch, the vague narrative, the power of the actors’ performances, the contrasts between calm and violent, organic and artificial, the masterful soundtracks, Tsukamoto’s films are pieces of art, made not only to be watched but to be felt and remembered, not a storyline, but an emotion.

#Beings (2015), a film by Andrei Stefanescu

Some films you follow, some films follow you. #Beings can easily fall in the second category of films which end up by following you for a while after watching it. It’s neither beautiful nor narrative. It is not everybody’s cup of tea; for some might be a whole kettle, while for others less than a cup. It might actually not even be a cup of tea. A dark atmospheric underground no-budget production, which proves once again that a film is more than polished visuals, special effects, and Hollywood stars, it is firstly a feeling, an experience, meaning exactly what lingers when narrative is erased from memory and images fade into colours.

Starting from a Eva, the film brings together a tormented love triangle, struggling with their own inner beings in an amalgam of guilt, love, lust, grief, loneliness, friendship, madness and absurdity which contours the human existence. Looking for and banishing each other at the same time, while looking for themselves, every character falls into its own interior world, trying to hide and escape their own anxieties. There is an uneasiness, a claustrophobic feeling of suffocation, an impossibility of breaking free. The film attracts its viewers and estranges them at the same time and with the same means. An hour of slow drowning, of diving into the most obscure and meaningless fears, an hour of industrial sound followed by crushing silence, which takes its passive viewers from Marie Claire to the desolate outskirts of Berlin.

Eva (Doro Hohn), Teo (Cătălin Jugravu), Ana (Andrea Christina Furrer) are just names in a hurricane of desperation and helplessness, each one enduring the guilt of the others’ suffering. No reason, no logic, no desire of going back to a once lost normality, probably; and love is not the solution as it usually is in a cliché of a world, but the trigger of irrationality itself. As I consider Andrzej Zulawski’s Cosmos (2015) to have a world of its own, which does not wait to be deciphered by its viewers, so does #Beings; the film does not try to explain itself, and it does not need to. The characters live in their own world, a world with no map, no directions.

#Beings gives no glimpses of a so-called normality, no light, no warmth, and once you start watching it you find yourself caught in a foggy loop as strange as it is familiar, through the clew of emotions and expressions it depicts, and which are nevertheless deeply and indisputable human. A poem of greyish images, the 53 minutes are a route from tense trepidation to quiet stillness. All the quick shots in the beginning, the long takes of the human body, Ana’s burdened gaze, and Eva’s cries for help melt into the static image of the sun setting over the industrial remains of something which was long forgotten.

For more info and insides link here: http://qualiafilm.com/blog/category/beings/

When I’m walking a dark road, I am a girl who walks alone

I have an uneasy feeling when it comes to heights, but I’ll overcome that pretty fast. I have no problem with bugs, worms or other crawling insects, but I have a severe fear of spiders; an encounter with a veritable representative of their kind might leave me with a discomfort for the next few hours, and I totally hate, from the deep of my soul, public speaking. That exact and inevitable moment, when all the eyes are looking at me, my mind goes blank and all I can remember are 3 sentences learnt in kindergarten, but I’ll manage to successfully survive that.

Not even a crowded conference room, made of glass at an honorable height, and full of crawling spiders won’t scare me as much as darkness. COMPLETE ABSOLUTE SILENT DARKNESS. I’m a night person, I love the mysterious aura of a deep night, of the moon and the stars, the trembling shadows, the exaltation and uncertainty that comes with it, the way my hearing sharpens when I can’t see properly, the fantasies which begin to take shape when the colors and contours begin to fade, the teasing feeling that something’s always there. But I have a visceral fear of complete black, followed by complete silence. Blindness, the lack of any feeble shadow, of any frail trace of light, terrifies me, petrifies me. For me, there is no world without image, and Oedipus’ own punishment is by far the worst punishment I can imagine.

Metropolis a masterpiece

This is a short essay dealing with Fritz Lang’s Metropolis’ (1927) status of masterpiece. It was an assignment for one of my courses and translated to English afterward. Anyway, I was pretty contempt with the result, and this is why I am posting it on my PDP.


 

Ein Film von Fritz Lang[1]. Metropolis.

Capo d’opera the Italian term for masterpiece, perfect work, artistic production with exceptional value or, as translated word by word, head of work. Starting from this latter meaning of the term, probably the easiest too, I will start the argumentation for Fritz Lang’s film being a masterpiece. However, the previous sentence reunites two statutes of the film: the one that is going to be argued as being a masterpiece and the one suggested by Fritz Lang’s syntagma.   By placing such an ample production as Metropolis as belonging to only one person, that is the director, we don’t do anything else but have it fall into the category of author films. This paper has not as a purpose to argue for or against the character of the film  Metropolis as being an author film, but it is interested in the effect that this status of author film had on the way the public received it and on building its statute of masterpiece.

Ein Film von Fritz Lang, an advertising phrase, that can be seen on the film’s poster near the mechanic woman, with the outline of the dysfunctional city Metropolis rising behind her. A slogan such as Du mußt Caligari werden![2] of the film Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari from 1920, that had been spread  in Berlin a few weeks before the release of the film, without offering at least a sign that it might promote a film production and have thus the purpose to arouse the curiosity and incite the public, because it relied on the lack of information, was not necessary for the film Metropolis.  Following the resounding success of  Die Nibelungen (1924),  for Metropolis, the name of the director, written between the shoulders of the robot character, was itself a form of promoting. Therefore, Fritz Lang’s name functioned similar to the way the stars’ names from contemporary times function on the one hand, and on the other hand it was sufficient so as to describe the film, similar to the way Frederico Fellini’s name or Quentin Tarantino’s name, associated with a film production  bring a series of characteristics.   Of course, the author film too, as any myth of the artist or of the artist’s workshop, is an artificial construction . In the case of the film art, maybe more than for any other art form, the matter of assigning is even more  problematic. Cinematographic creation is a collective effort, assigned many times to only one name, whether it is that of the director, leading actor or actress, or rarely to the script writer or the cameraman or the image manager.

Fritz Lang played in turn the key parts of the film production, from a script writer to an actor and then a director and he calls himself a film creator, but he acknowledged the true worth of the team he worked together with at producing the film Metropolis, particularly the cameraman Gunther Ritau, whom he described by the word genius and his wife, the scriptwriter Thea von Harbou.[3]  He admitted even that, although the production process gave him great pleasure, the central motif of the film, the element that dispels tension, was not in agreement with his creed (beliefs).

Therefore, in Fritz Lang’s film, providing a solution itself to the conflict and the metaphorical sentence: the heart is what unites the brain and the hand, do not belong to the director, but to his wife, as he reaches this conclusion much later.  

Coming back to the term masterpiece, more precisely to la capo d’opera, we can state about the film that it is not the head of a work, but the head of a cinematographic genre. If  Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari is the horror film before horror films, Metropolis is the first science fiction film in the formula that we know nowadays.

Therefore, one can consider Lang’s film as a founder work, that has not only surprised by technical innovations, visual effect, the unprecedented robot character, whose transformation into a human being is due to Gunther Ritau but it was also quoted in numerous subsequent productions, passing beyond the film area and entering pop culture. It incited discussions on his symbolic significance, his political or prophetical disposition, he was criticized and appreciated to the same degree, destroyed and recomposed, he was  a vast, costly project, whose success  was quantified in the debates that he gave rise to, more than the financial remuneration and whose intricate history is one of the factors that brought about  bringing the term masterpiece near the title Metropolis.

In order to identify the recurrent motifs and cliches that outline the new genre we must direct our attention to the topic of the film. Fritz Lang identifies and problematizes the social evil, without having the intention of finding a solution.  Facile and romantic reconciliation in the epilogue of the film does not belong to the director. The political dimension is also repudiated by Lang: When you say that my films take into account the problem of criminality, it is a wrong statement. I try to identify social deviations. I am not a politician, I can not come to a conclusion about giving them a solution   but I can draw attention that these deviations, this social evil exist .[4]

Being influenced by the historic ambience of the capital in a defeated republic, still haunted by the drama of the First World War and encountering the industrialization and technical progress, antithetical to physically and psychically traumatised victims, Lang, as all the other directors of Wiemer Republic, doesn’t  present in a documented way the problems of society, but he makes an utopic construct, dreamlike, on the background of which he projects (plans) the tension among social classes.  The utopia Metropolis is in fact a dysfunctional town where social classes are placed vertically and seem not to have but a vague conscience of  the others’ existence. The metropolis organized around Babel Tower is ruled by Joh Fredersen, a silent tyrant, concerned neither about the needs or the complaints of any of the members  in the community that he manages, nor by his son Freder’s needs.

Antithesis between new and old, between technology and occultism is illustrated not only by the scenery, by bringing close some futurist buildings, high speed vehicles, hung up motorways and a gothic cathedral, with gargoyles, symbols of the evil and allegorical statues of the seven main sins or of the underground grotto presided over by Maria, a modern maiden who preaches about peace but also by the relationship between the Master of the metropolis and  the scholar Rotwang.

Rotwang, prototype of the mad scientist, is dressed in clothes that don’t suit the vestimentary style of the other characters, suggests the image of a wizard, representative of the past and he is the one who reaches the highest level of technology.  He creates the  robot woman, the mechanical man, who rises, as level of development, above the human being and can destroy or restore public order in the city[5].The mechanical man, the robot who raises above and/or against his creator is also one of the key elements of science fiction films. We can offer as an example the character – robot Hall from Stanley Kubrick’s Spatial Odyssey: 2001, C-3PO from Stars War whose visual resemblance to  Rotwang’s woman robot is undisputable, or the child robot, the dying robots from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, or David, from Steven Spielberg’s  A. I. Artificial Intelligence, character who, similar to the second Maria from Metropolis, has human appearance but, unlike Lang’s character, David outshines the human being, paradoxically, mainly due to his deeply human character.

By giving Maria the robot’s appearance, the film also introduces the idea of mechanical woman, artificial as object of male wishes and problematizes thus the woman’s statute [6].  The myth of artificial woman[7], created by men so as to satisfy their intellectual, physical and emotional need, that is to comply with  their own ideal, claims its origin from Pygmalion’s Galateea, but Metropolis moves the coordinates from the occult area of magic to the technological area the second Maria being revived by science, not by magic  – and brings the myth from the field of literature to that of cinematography image. Among the subsequent numerous examples of artificial female characters  I will provide only a few: the mechanical woman in  Fellini’s Casanova , the robot character from the more recent film Her, directed by Spike Jones.

The fantastic and equally technologized framework provides the viewer with a new world, dominated by expressionist aesthetic, with a specific dreamlike atmosphere, aspatial and atemporal. The delimitation between social classes is mainly represented by visual ways.  The bustling, crowded city, surrounded by the circular shaped building of Babel tower, with tall, modern, diverse architecture, the upper class city, is  antithetical  to the austerity of cube-shaped monolithic blocks of flats, arranged in a series, around a central market in the workers’ city.

Frivolous activity, lacking any practical finality, of upper class where Freder belongs to, is in total opposition with the strict organizing of workers’ world in the underground town.

Workers’simultaneous movements, mechanical typified gestures become prominent by means of depersonalized uniforms and create the impression of robotized conglomerate, stronger than Maria’s malefic image, as a representative of mechanical beings.

The key sequences are marked visually by intricate and innovative techniques. Endowing the robot woman with Maria’s physical features needed long term effort and numerous experiments made by Gunther Raus and his team. In fact, the film was more appreciated for its visual constructions than for its topic itself  which was considered to be facile.

Even under these circumstances, the main motifs: of the utopic city, mechanical woman, mad scientist, technical buildings handled by depersonalized people, that the proper functioning of society based on prosperity and luxury relies on, are recurrent motifs of science fiction films. Besides these, Fritz Lang’s name  brings a   legend of the artist, who ran from home when he was young , with a rich and fascinating personal story,  Krakauer’s wrong theory that presented the film as a prophetic sign of Nazism, as well as the history of the film itself, modified in order to be seen  in American cinemas, destroyed and then restored in 2002 and later in 2010, the specificity of  expressionist image, which served as a source of inspiration for Noir films that people gave up to as soon as the Second World War broke out, are factors that contributed to building the statute of masterpiece  for the  film Metropolis. The  fact that it amazes contemporary public too, either by technical effects, related to the inter-war period, or by its unprecedented character, different from the   visual culture  of contemporary world  validates its  statute of masterpiece related to time.

[1] A film by Fritz Lang.

[2] You must become Caligari!

[3] Fritz Lang Interviewed by William Friedkin from 1974

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=or0j1mY_rug 

[4] Idem

[5] Peter W. Evans, „Metropolis: Structures of the Super Ego”, Renaissance and Modern Studies, p. 107

[6] Ibidem

[7] Rotwang creates the woman robot as a substitute of  Joh Frederson’s wife, who dies in childbirth and that they both loved.

I dreamed a dream

Well no, it’s nothing so dramatic. I waited a week for a more impressive dream… but it did not happen. I guess not all of us would do so well in Inception (just for the record, I usually do, it’s just when I have the assignment to write something about a dream that doesn’t happen). Anyway, it’s the middle of the night and I’d like to go to sleep, maybe I’m more lucky tonight, and I’ll have some amazing dream to tell you, to replace this blah-blah. Until then, you’ll have to read about pickles. Yeah, pickles, those were the stars of my last dream. Oh my god and they were the best pickles I’ve ever dreamed about (and the first). It might be some kind of symptom of homesickness because  those pickles were definitely made in Romania. I could still feel that taste on my tongue when I woke up, and they pretty much haunted me for the rest of the day. I even considered telling my mother to send me a package with some of those pickles… Of course, there were a lot of people in this dream, mostly friends (I guess), but who had the time to observe that?

This being said, I’m going to bed, maybe I’ll have an upgrade tonight, and I’ll eat some sarmale.

P.S. sarmale is a delicious Romanian dish, google it, and I’ll be sure to serve it to you when  you come visiting.