Indulge in offbeat Japanese films

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Indulge in offbeat Japanese films

So, you didn’t have the chance to check out this year’s Jeonju International Film Festival? Though the festival ended Sunday in the North Jeolla province city, don’t hang up your cinemaphile hat just yet. One of the most attractive sections ― a retrospective on Japan’s Art Theater Guild ― will run again in the heart of Seoul starting today.
The screenings at the Seoul Art Cinema, which run through Sunday, cover Japanese independent cinema both past and present. Most of the films have English subtitles.
Art Theater Guild, or ATG as it’s better known, was the foundation for Japan’s modern-day art cinema. Established in 1961, ATG played a fatherly role to small-budget art films with chronic financial problems, which goes hand-in-hand with small art-house productions.
Despite its meager budget, ATG helped solidify Japanese art cinema, supporting the spirit of experimental and avant-garde independent filmmakers. This retrospective looks back at ATG’s early years from the 1960s to the 1980s by presenting nine feature films along with six collections of short films.
From Masahiro Shinoda comes “Double Suicide,” an enchanting black-and-white film based on bunraku, a traditional Japanese puppet performance. The film tells the story of a wishy-washy man caught in a whirlpool of conflict between duty to his family and love for his mistress.
The beauty of the film comes from the use of bunraku in the characters’ movements and lines. The film’s slender budget did not allow the director to build a set, so he used a puppet show instead, which does not require a spectacular backdrop.
“A Crazy Family,” by Sogo Ishii, was one of the most sought-after films at Jeonju. To describe the hidden darkness and madness of a seemingly placid middle-class family, the director uses radical camera movements and exaggerated performance.
“Eros Plus Massacre,” on the other hand, transports viewers to a world where reality and illusion are charmingly concocted.
“Young Murderer” tells of troubled youth with a tale of murder while “The Assassination of Ryoma” is a drama set in late 19th-century Japan amid the shackles of historical conflict.
“To Die in the Country” evokes nostalgia for the countryside and boyhood, albeit through a series of grotesque images.
This retrospective is significant to art film enthusiasts in that it offers a rare opportunity to enjoy movies that do not get much screen time in local theaters. In this sense, the short film collection is a must-see.
Divided into six sections, the collections, many of them created by film school students and other young cineastes, present a world of unlimited imagination.

by Chun Su-jin

Each screening costs 6,000 won ($5). Seoul Art Cinema is best reached from Anguk Station, subway line No. 3. Take exit 1 and walk about 10 minutes to the venue, in the basement of Art Sonje Center.
Advance ticket sales are available at and kr. For more information, call Cinematheque Seoul at (02) 720-9782 or visit
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