Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Japan Cuts ’16: The Sion Sono

Somewhat ironically, two of Japan’s most adventurous directors—Sion Sono and Takeshi Miike—are also the two most likely to get international distribution. While Miike’s films come in a variety of speeds, including something approximating accessibility, Sono’s films only vary in their degree of insanity. However, in recognition of his prolific output and his compulsive urge to document and address the Fukushima disaster, Sono finally finds himself embraced by the establishment in 2015. However, Sono remained the same old jaundiced eccentric, at least judging from Arata Oshima’s documentary profile, The Sion Sono (trailer here), which screens during this year’s Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.

Oshima is indeed the son of controversial auteur Nagisa Oshima, but he doesn’t exactly give Sono the Sono treatment in The Sion Sono. Instead, he mostly gives us straight-over-the-plate doc footage of Sono puttering about his painting studio, chewing the fat with his colleagues, or peering through the lens as he helms one of the five theatrical films he released last year.

Considering how different films like Whispering Star, Tag, and Love & Peace are from each other and how distinctive thy all are, it is certainly interesting to watch Sono work his filmmaking magic—at least up to a point. However, when the auteur is not defiling canvases, he is rather deceptively mild mannered. After a while, watching him film leaky faucets starts to drag a little.

However, when Sono discusses Fukushima and its relationship to his work, the film definitely starts to pick up. Aspiring filmmakers should also glean a number of lessons from the chaotic career anecdotes The Sion Sono shares with Oshima. Nevertheless, there is no getting around the DVD-extra vibe of Oshima’s documentary. It is nowhere near as entertaining as Mark Hartley’s docs or as thoughtful as Yves Montmayeur’s filmmaker profiles. If you regularly cover Japanese cinema, you will find some helpful insights within, but it is certainly not mandatory viewing for general audiences. Probably best saved for hardcore Sono diehards, The Sion Sono screens this Saturday (7/16) at the Japan Society, as part of Japan Cuts 2016.