From April 8-23, Japan Society celebrates the astonishing yet little-known world of Japanese musical films. “Japan Sings! The Japanese Musical Festival” focuses on the golden age of the “popular song film” starring teen idols and TV stars from the 50s and 60s. It also reaches back to prewar singing samurai and forward to twenty-first century genre mashups – 10 songful cinema gems all on 35mm.
Musical performance in these films incorporates Japanese musical tradition as well as the utopian space of the Hollywood musical to create a rich commentary on the intimate and unequal relation between Japan and the USA. This series is guest curated by Michael Raine, Assistant Professor of Film Studies at Western University, Canada.
You Can Succeed, Too: The closest Japanese cinema ever came to the full-blown Broadway style musical, with singing and dancing on the streets of Tokyo, music by avant-garde composer and jazzman Toshiro Mayuzumi, lyrics by renowned poet Shuntaro Tanikawa, and direction by one of Toho’s most prominent “new wave” directors, Eizo Sugawa. Popular jazz drummer and actor Frankie Sakai stars in this comic version of the “industrial competition” genre: two tourism companies compete for foreign clients in the run up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Highlighting the coming internationalization of Japan, the film dramatizes the felt tensions between tradition and modernity, the pressures of the “economic animal” lifestyle, and the energy of high economic growth.
Senior Curator Lecture – Popular Song and Performance in Japanese Films: Michael Raine will talk about the history of the musical film in Japan from silent films accompanied by live performance to postmodern parodies of musicals as the quintessential American genre, taking in wartime propaganda and “group sounds” imitations of Beatles films along the way. The talk pays special attention to the close relationship between cinema and popular song, and to American cultural, political, and economic influence in Japan. Approx. 60 min. This event is free with the purchase of a ticket to any film in the series. Seating is limited. Ticketholders will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis.
Twilight Saloon: Tomu Uchida’s second comeback film, after staying in China since World War II. Isamu Kosugi plays an alcoholic painter who quit painting when he realized his wartime work was propaganda. He bears witness to intersecting narratives that all take place on a single set, a cheap saloon featuring records and live performance. Gliding long takes and long shots, layered in depth, create a visual cross-section of postwar Japanese society in which classical opera, military marches, folk, and pop songs articulate the political, social, and sexual tensions between groups as well as reveal the interiority of each character. An all-star allegory of postwar Japan as seen by a war returnee.
Japan Society is the leading U.S. organization committed to deepening mutual understanding between the United States and Japan in a global context. Now in its second century, the Society serves audiences across the United States and abroad through innovative programs in arts and culture, public policy, business, language and education.
Japan Society is an American nonprofit organization supported by individuals, foundations and corporations that brings the people of Japan and the United States closer together through mutual understanding, appreciation and cooperation. More than a hundred years after the Society’s founding, its goal remains the same—the cultivation of a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.