Japan’s 8mm Revolution

Hachimiri Madness exposes the new radicals of the punk era

I Am Sion Sono!, part of the Hachimiri Madness season at AFS Cinema

Everyone entangled in the film industry complex, from directors to critics, can name that moment – the specific film that totally changed the trajectory of their life. For AFS Cinema’s programmer Jazmyne Moreno, the filmmaker that took her down a rabbit hole into a treasure trove of punk rock Japanese cinema was Masashi Yamamoto.

He was the filmmaker behind some of Japan’s most vibrant, rule-breaking films from the Eighties and Nineties, like Robinson’s Garden (1987) and What’s Up Connection (1990). Moreno said, “I was a teenager in Oklahoma, just finding things on the internet and absorbing whatever I could and I saw a film, Carnival in the Night by Yamamoto, and it completely blew my mind. So, to get to play his films [is] a dream come true for me.”

Yamamoto is one of the many filmmakers featured in the upcoming series Hachimiri Madness. It’s a monthlong exploration of the era defined by the movement known as “jishu eiga” (which translates to “autonomous film”): By the 1970s, Japanese cinema was stagnant, with cinematic norms inspired by auteurs like Ozu and Kurosawa, and the time was ripe for a renaissance. With 8mm cameras, a handful of young, scrappy, self-financed filmmakers went out and produced their visions, ones that couldn’t exist within the walls of a stuffy industry stuck in a loop.

Filmmakers showcased in the season include Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Love Exposure), Katsuyuki Hirano (Yumika), Shinya Tsukamoto (TETSUO: The Iron Man, Kotoko), Shinobu Yaguchi (Swing Girls, Wood Job!), Macoto Tezka (The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, Tezuka’s Barbara), and Akira Ogata (Boy’s Choir).

While many of their catalogs are accessible in the United States, there are some more unknown directors featured in the series, like Nobuhiro Suwa (Paris, Je T’Aime segment “Place des Victoires”) and his first feature, Hanasareru Gang, whose French New Wave-influenced style is a bit of a standout in the series. His 1997 film 2/Duo has been recently restored, and Moreno said she expects to screen it at AFS “soon enough, but he’s a filmmaker that people just do not know here. [Hanasareru Gang] is one I absolutely love, and it’s him in a different mode, because most of his films are usually so serious, but you still see his interest in European film in the very beginning.”

Another one of Moreno’s favorite directors, Gakuryū Ishii (August in the Water, Angel Dust), is included in the series. His short film, directed as Sogo Ishii, “Isolation of 1/880000” (which plays February 15) is a fascinating character study of a young man living in solitude, studying for his university entrance exams, having already failed once. It’s a powerful little film, desolate in its hopelessness, and nearly 50 years later it still feels culturally relevant, something Moreno believes applies to all the films. “I think the series is eternally youthful,” she concluded. “There’s a sort of restlessness, anger, and enthusiasm that’s always going to be relevant and timely. It conjures all of those emotions, and it’s also just impossibly cool.”

AFS Cinema presents Hachimiri Madness: Japanese Indies From the Punk Years. Through March 1. AFS Cinema, 6406 N. I-35 #3100. austinfilm.org.

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AFS Cinema, Hachimiri Madness, Jazmyne Moreno, Japanese Cinema, Masashi Yamamoto, Sion Sono, Katsuyuki Hirano, Shinya Tsukamoto, Shinobu Yaguchi, Macoto Tezka, Akira Ogata, Nobuhiro Suwa, Sogo Ishii, Gakuryu Ishii

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