Voted the greatest Japanese director of the 1980s by the readers of Japan’s oldest and most authoritative film magazine, Kinema Junpo, Shinji Somai is hardly a household name in the West, even among cinephiles. But as Luk Van Haute has pointed out in Film International, Somai’s second feature, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun, was Japan’s biggest box office hit in 1981, and Typhoon Club won the Grand Prix at the first Tokyo Film Festival in 1985.
Directors such as Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Shinji Aoyama, and Kiyoshi Kurosawa praise Somai, a master of the long take, as a major influence on their own work. Asian cinema scholar Aaron Gerow notes that Ryosuke Hashiguchi once recalled that “when he was in college, everyone dreaming of becoming a filmmaker was trying to emulate Somai.” It’s high time for the West to catch up with Somai, who directed thirteen features before he died way too young—he was fifty-three—in 2001.
From April 28 through May 13, Japan Society in New York will present Rites of Passage: The Films of Shinji Somai, the first retrospective in North America, and we’re thrilled to spotlight the trailer. The series opens with the world premiere of a new 4K restoration of Typhoon Club, a group portrait of a cluster of adolescent students stranded at their school as a storm moves in.
Somai “puts himself at the level of these kids and tries to get inside their heads and tries not to approach them with any preconceptions from an adult point of view,” Chris Fujiwara told Jamie Dunn when, as the artistic director of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, he staged a Somai retrospective in 2012. “That’s why these films are so honest to me, and also sometimes very brutal and surprising, because the kids don’t correspond to the constraints of what kids are supposed to be like in movies.”
Writing for Offscreen, Tim Deschaumes notes that Typhoon Club offers “a concise synthesis of themes and styles typical of his oeuvre: the focus on children and teenagers, the absence or inadequacy of adults, the human body in motion (swimming, dancing, running), the contagious joie de vivre that can suddenly shift to gloomier moods, the predilection for static and mobile long takes, as well as for carefully lit dark spaces and images that distill their uncanniness from everyday reality.”
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