Monday, 15 February 2010

Turning Japanese

I'm annoyed I missed so much of the BFI Southbank's Ozu season and only latterly caught Early Summer and Late Autumn. One of the criticisms levelled at the second film is that it barely reflects the changing attitudes that were blowing through Japan at the time it was made (1960). While Yasujiro Ozu may by then have been working to an utterly serene template, I'm not sure this is fair when you look at Late Autumn through the prism of his earlier work. Taken against Early Summer, for instance, with which it shares the principal scenario about a young woman looking for a husband, certain formalities have clearly changed, as have attitudes to the younger generation.

Early Summer (1951) is a wonderful introduction to family relations, the ins and outs of getting married and even to eating and the layout of homes in Japan at the time. Nearly a decade on, some of the most haunting shots in Late Autumn are of the apartment block where this way of life has been transposed, though scenes between the younger cast can sometimes be reminiscent of a Cliff Richard film. (There's a touch of this in Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood but, a generation and a half on, his work feels like another world.)

I've just started a detective novel, Inspector Imanishi Investigates, by Seicho Matsumoto, drawn by the comparisons to Georges Simenon on the back. Published by New York's Soho Press, it's notable how Beth Carey's smooth translation beautifully assimilates any cultural lacunae; really impressive. First published in Japan in 1961, the author tackles more directly the shock of the new as a gang of young writers, artists, composers and architects are feted by the public in a manner that exceeds anything that has gone before.

Next up for me is Occupied City, the second part of David Peace's Tokyo trilogy. I'm sure Matsumoto's procedurals must have served Peace as some inspiration for the police work in his latest books. But Peace looks directly at the post-war environment, while his Japanese antecendents brush at it as against nettles.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Roeg male

Accepting the Alexander Walker prize at the Evening Standard film awards for his contribution to film-making, director Nic Roeg joked that he hoped it was a 'half-lifetime' and there would be more to come. On the strength of his last feature, Puffball, that is difficult to envisage.

The film was muddled, if a little crazed (no bad thing in itself), and seemed to have no point to it, my current bête noir with all sorts of films. I hoped when I met him at his Notting Hill home that he might be able to explain what he was trying to achieve with the film; often you become a lot more well-disposed towards a film, TV programme, artwork or book when its creator explains what their aim had been (a danger when you review something by someone you've interviewed; not bias necessarily, but a more charitable mind towards their intentions). Instead he seemed preoccupied with the detail of how the film - adapted from a Fay Weldon book by her son Dan - came into being and then, following his lead, or so I thought, bemused by my questions about the different media (HD?) he'd used to create some of the film's effects (filmed in small spaces, the lense seems to pull in everything around it so you are pushed up against bellies and table edges).

The interview had been carefully organised to come before his lunch - on a hot summer's day it was a pleasure to stop in this cool, shaded house - but even after only a couple of questions Roeg seemed keen to finish. I ploughed on, but didn't get much on what had drawn him to the project (there were lots of hints that it did all mean something but maybe he was too tired to say), nor how he felt of a contemporary film with three fine women leads (including Kelly Reilly), still something of a rarity these days. In front of the room where we spoke was a giant nude portrait of his ex, Theresa Russell, made of cut-up photographs.

Afterwards, Roeg was keen to see the shortened transcript of our interview I was sending to Little White Lies - not something I normally indulge - and tinkered with one phrase as he worried the emphasis might be misleading. He made his name, of course, with some great films in the 1970s - Performance, Walkabout, Don't Look Now and The Man Who Fell To Earth - and continued on his reputation into the '80s, but by the time of Cold Heaven in 1991 it seemed he had little left to say (the previous year's excellent Dahl adapatation The Witches notwithstanding). Almost a British forerunner of David Lynch, perhaps the writers were no longer matching Roeg's fantasies, and he'd run out his own imagination; this award may provoke a revival of interest in his career. If the particularly medical shots of Puffball are anything to go by, he only seems to have retreated further inside himself, where the rest of us may no longer want to follow.