Sunday, July 19, 2020

Japan Cuts '20: Wolf's Calling (short)

It was a questionable application of a problematic law. Much to his dismay, director Toshiaki Toyoda was arrested (but never charged) for possession of an antique firearm that had been passed down through generations of his family. At least it inspired this short film. A young woman will uncover a similar heirloom in Toyoda’s Wolf’s Calling, which screens as part of the Japan Society’s Japan Cuts Festival of New Japanese Film (all virtual this year).

The woman did not know what to make of the piece, but presumably her ancestor did. Toyoda now flashes back to the Edo era, more or less. Samurai like Rurouni Kenshin largely thought guns were cheating, but if you had someone packing, you definitely put him in front. Eventually, that warrior will come to the fore. However, Toyoda will not show us the battle. Instead, we only witness the call-to-arms and assembly at Kasosan Shrine. It sounds simple, but it is still pretty awesome to behold.

The forest-shrouded shrine is an enormously cinematic location that Toyoda films from many dramatic and inventive angles. This is one of the rare short films that really deserves to be seen on the big screen—the bigger, the better. The sound should also be cranked up, because the evocative soundtrack was composed and performed by Seppuku Pistols, who bring a punk rock aesthetic to traditional Japanese courtly music. As a bonus,
Calling features a number of prominent Japanese films stars, including Tadanobu Asano as the veteran Takashi Shimura-like samurai.

is a simple film, but for Chanbara fans, it is very cool. Think of it as a short for those who just want to watch the Magnificent Seven ride while Elmer Bernstein’s soaring theme plays and really do not need to replay their shootout with Eli Wallach’s desperados. It looks and sounds terrific, recreating the vibe of the Edo era, while maintaining a contemporary sensibility. Highly recommended for short film connoisseurs, Wolf’s Calling screens virtually through July 30th, as part of the 2020 Japan Cuts.