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Trailer Premiere: Taisho Roman

Shuji Terayama’s Grass Labyrinth (1979)

Following the political and economic chaos of the Meiji era and preceding the rise of the imperialistic militarism of the Showa era, the all-too-brief Taisho era (1912–1926) was Japan’s Belle Époque, its Roaring Twenties. Power shifted away from oligarchic elder statesmen toward more democratic institutions, and artists and writers began dipping into western culture and drawing inspiration from European Romanticism.

With Taisho Roman: Fever Dreams of Great Rectitude, Japan Society will bring to New York a selection of six films, all of them set during this flourishing epoch, by some of Japan’s most radical directors. We’re delighted to premiere the trailer for the series, which opens on December 9 with an imported 35 mm print of Dogra Magra (1988), the fourth and final feature from Toshio Matsumoto (Funeral Parade of Roses) and an adaptation of Yumeno Kyusaku’s 1935 novel, which, when rediscovered nearly thirty years after its publication, drew comparisons to Kafka and Poe.

The series wraps a week later, on December 16, with Akio Jissoji’s Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis (1988), a brash (and for the time, quite expensive) blend of sci-fi and horror incorporating folkloric tropes from both Japan and China. One highlight of the series will surely be the new 4K restoration of Seijun Suzuki’s Zigeunerweisen (1980). “Stuck in a seaside resort village,” wrote Michael Atkinson in the Village Voice in 2006, “two old university cohorts—one on vacation, one a mad, potentially homicidal wanderer—fall for the same grieving geisha, and from there the doppelgänger mistaken identities, wives, children of questionable birth, eyeball-licking foreplay, and languid enigmas proliferate. Astonishingly, [Zigeunerweisen] swept the Japanese Academy Awards.”

Grass Labyrinth (1979), a forty-minute erotic journey from poet, dramatist, and filmmaker Shuji Terayama, will screen with A Page of Madness (1926), a silent experimental classic from Teinosuke Kinugasa (Gate of Hell). In 2005, Midnight Eye founding editor Tom Mes wrote that cult filmmaker Teruo Ishii’s Horrors of Malformed Men (1969) “stands out as one of the most singular cinematic experiences not just in Ishii’s history, but in all of Japan’s. Combining a spectrum of influences that stretches from Rampo to butoh, it taps into the country’s post-nuclear trauma so audaciously that people reportedly fled theaters in disgust . . . Yet, it is beautiful, haunting, and oneiric; it is perhaps the closest one can come to a dreamlike experience without closing one’s eyes.”

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