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Japan through the extreme lens of its New Wave masters
NIDHI GUPTA  8th Apr 2012

A still from Kaneto Shindô’s The Naked Island

n the '60s-'70s, Japan was a nation just recovering from the shock of nuclear bombings, it was struggling through a political turmoil and its economy was beginning to stabilise again after the ravages of the Second World War. With such large-scale changes sweeping through the Pacific island country, art too began to alter itself to honestly reflect a shift in cultures. It was cinema more than any other form that showed the deepest symptoms of change.

13BCD, the new film gallery in Hauz Khas Village, in collaboration with the Japan Foundation, is hosting an exhibition in tribute to Japanese New Wave, a revolutionary moment on the time-space axis of a long cinematic tradition. Greats like Nagisa Oshima, Masahiro Shinoda, Shohei Imamura, Seijun Suzuki, Susumu Hani and Toshio Matsumoto, among others, have come to be branded under this category for their daredevilry in direction. Using the unexplored themes of sex and violence in a seemingly conservative society, these directors transformed cinema by bringing in an element of hyperbole into a previously tame narrative technique.

"This cadre of directors, associated with studios and with the art and theatre group, were on a mission to make Japanese cinema contemporary. It's not as if this was happening in isolation – it was a global movement," says curator Kaushik Bhowmik, VP of the Osian Film Festival. Rejecting the notion that this was just a bunch filmmakers trying to imitate the European New Wave directors like Godard and Fellini, he says that this parallel movement in the East was certainly inspired by the West. Their technique, too, varied drastically from what was used before – some of these movies were the first instances of on-site sound, jump cuts and shooting at real-life, urban locations.

So while Oshima portrays the deeply disturbed psychosis of a merchant family heir who wants desperately to escape the cruel patriarchal rituals of family tradition in Geshiki (Ceremony), Hani depicts a 'modern' love story between a sexual delinquent and a prostitute in Nanami: The Inferno of First Love, incorporating the darker side of adult sex and psychological violence (where the male protagonist is sodomised by his step-father) into the narrative. Other films such as Masamura's Blind Beast, Imamura's The Pornographers, Masao Adachi's Serial Killer, Shinoda's Pale Flower, all revisit these tropes of the in-between, exploring, not escaping, the grey matter of reality.

"These were auteurs who came from a background of criticism; and who rejected the cinema of Ozu and Kurosawa, their predecessors. Instead, they focussed on the cultures and sub-cultures emerging out of a time when Japan was relocating itself on the map," says Nitesh Rohit, co-founder of 13BCD.

At the small basement gallery, five screens depict montages of scenes from these movies, categorised under women, violence, pop-art and sex. "We're not screening entire movies – instead, we've built these screenplays that are supposed to inform a different dialectic of cinema. Our attempt has been to contextualise Japanese New Wave cinema through imagery to give the viewer a more comprehensive idea of what the whole movement was all about," explains Rohit.

Contrasting images, in black and white, technicolour and Manga art, flicker across the screens, some showing the S&M bondage that was sexually fashionable at the time, others depicting women sitting in front of vanity boxes and mirrors, painting their faces frantically, obsessively. "The cinema of the time was also informed by the cult of 'kawaii' – where women re-interpreted self-fashioning and spent hours trying to look 'cute' – and the Expo 1970, an architectural idea of metabolism, brought out by Kenzo Tange, among other things," points out Bhowmik.

The exhibition comes at a time when Indian cinema is itself opening up to a world beyond the commercial and the mainstream. "Today, we have directors like Anurag Kashyap and Amit Dutta who are willing to explore themes outside of the polite and the acceptable. In the next 3-5 years, a whole new generation of filmmakers is going to emerge that will be more informed in cinematic backgrounds and will thus bring about our new wave, perhaps," says Rohit.

Japanese New Wave is on at 13BCD, Hauz Khas Village till 16 April.

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