New York, NY
Yoshimitsu Morita Retrospective
Time and Location
Lincoln Center (New York, NY)
Across a 30-plus-year career, Yoshimitsu Morita (1950–2011) amassed one of the most fascinatingly idiosyncratic and prolific bodies of work in modern Japanese cinema. From his irreverently comic 1981 Something Like It to his 1983 breakout black comedy, The Family Game (a New Directors/New Films 1984 selection), to forays into melodrama (And Then, 1985), the hard-boiled film (Deaths in Tokimeki, 1984), the pink film/roman porno (Top Stripper, 1982), horror (The Black House, 1999), and romantic drama (Haru, 1996), Morita’s work is marked by an incomparable sensitivity to the peaks and valleys of the inner landscape of Japanese society, a penchant for subtle injections of surreality to highlight the absurdity of certain aspects of Japanese life, an omnipresent sense of irony, and a boldly iconoclastic approach to visual composition. Morita’s films deal with many of the same subjects as those of his better-known predecessors and successors, but from a wholly singular point of view, yielding a richly heterogeneous and perpetually surprising oeuvre overdue for discovery. Join Film at Lincoln Center for a special retrospective of Morita’s films and get lost with us in his cinematic labyrinth of desire, chaos, and joy.
Kazuko Misawa, longtime producer of Morita’s works, will join FLC audiences to introduce four of the films presented as part of the retrospective: The Black House, Deaths in Tokimeki, The Family Game, and Lost Paradise. Misawa met Morita while attending Waseda University, promoted The Steam Express and became an assistant producer for Live in Chigasaki. She and Morita founded News Corporation while making Something Like It. Misawa’s features produced with Morita are: Kitchen, Haru, Keiho, Like Ashura, Mamiya Brothers, Take the “A” Train (all of them directed by Yoshimitsu Morita), Eien no ½ (1987, Kichitaro Negishi), Menkyo ga nai! (directed by Tomoyuki Akashi), Bakayaro! series, and the Yonigeya honpo series (directed by Takahito Hara).
Tickets for the retrospective go on sale Thursday, November 10 at noon and are $15; $12 for students, seniors (62+), and persons with disabilities; and $10 for FLC Members. See more and save with a 3+ Film Package or All-Access Passes ($65 for General Public and $35 for Students).
Use code KEIHO for $5 off GP tickets!
Learn more at Film at Lincoln Center website.
FILMS & DESCRIPTIONS
All films will take place at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W 65th St) All DCPs Unless otherwise stated, all films are in Japanese with English subtitles.
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1985, 130m
Morita’s award-winning first foray into period films is an adaptation of master of literary modernism Sōseki Natsume’s novel of the same title, about an idle upper-class man (Yūsaku Matsuda) filling his days of ennui with literature and art. When his wealthy and traditional family tells him it’s time to grow up and settle into the proper life for which he was bred, he regrets having let go of his one true love, who unhappily married his best friend. This second and final collaboration with the iconic Matsuda (The Family Game) is perhaps Morita’s most ambitious work with elaborate sets built by a veteran crew and animated by its actors, including Chishū Ryū of Ozu fame. Morita creates a highly stylized Meiji-period Japan imbued with a sense of melancholy and nostalgia for time past and love lost.
Saturday, December 10 at 7:00pm
The Black House
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1999, 118m
Several of Morita’s signature themes and motifs receive their most macabre treatment in this, his mid-career feature (and his first horror film). Adapted from a novel by Yusuke Kishi, The Black House follows an insurance agent (Seiyō Uchino) who receives a phone call from a suicidal woman (Shinobu Otake) asking about her life insurance policy payout; upon visiting her house to check on her, he stumbles across the corpse of her young son (who apparently has committed suicide himself). This sets in motion a chain of increasingly unnerving events. Morita provocatively unveils the latent madness underlying capitalism and the insurance-industrial complex’s financialization of life and death, arriving at an utterly absorbing work of sociopolitical horror.
Saturday, December 3 at 6:15pm (introduction by producer Kazuko Misawa)
Friday, December 9 at 9:15pm
Deaths in Tokimeki
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1984, 105m
A mysterious young man (played by pop star Kenji Sawada) descends upon a sleepy northern Japanese town. He is welcomed by a middle-aged man (Naoki Sugiura) who is backed financially by a shadowy organization and who tends to the young man’s needs while they stay in an empty villa. When a young woman (Kanako Higuchi), also sent by the organization, shows up, a peculiar co-habitation begins, and the young man prepares for the deadly hit job that he was sent to execute. A visually arresting mood piece lensed by Yonezō Maeda (The Family Game) who, along with Morita, pulls out all the stops. The 360-degree tracking shot around an actual driving car remains a cinematographic marvel, and the film is set to a dreamy 1980s synth soundtrack by Osamu Shiomura.
Friday, December 2 at 9:00pm (introduction by producer Kazuko Misawa)
Friday, December 9 at 2:00pm
The Family Game
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1983, 106m
Things begin to unravel when the parents in what seems like an ordinary lower-middle-class family in Japan decide to hire a tutor to improve their middle schooler’s failing grades. The enigmatic tutor, played by the irresistible Yūsaku Matsuda (a massive star in his time gone too soon), is like a cannon let loose, ping-ponging between the family members and twisting facades of convention into the realm of the absurd. Visually inventive, bitingly sharp, audacious, and full of wit, the film immediately launched Morita into the upper echelons of contemporary Japanese cinema. Winner of seven Japanese Academy Awards that year (including Best Director and Best Actor), this production of the critically acclaimed Art Theatre Guild became an instant classic, bursting with an energy that still sends out ripples today. This 1984 New Directors/New Films selection finally returns to New York in a new 4K remastered version.
Friday, December 2 at 6:30pm (introduction by producer Kazuko Misawa)
Saturday, December 3 at 8:45pm
Sunday, December 4 at 6:15pm
Monday, December 5 and Tuesday, December 6 at 1:30pm
Wednesday, December 7 and Thursday, December 8 at 9:00pm
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1996, 118m
Made in the early years of internet chat rooms, Morita’s mid-1990s standout follows a young salaryman in the city with the username “[Haru]” who becomes fast friends with a fellow named Hoshi who lives in a rural town. Their anonymity allows them to open up about their loves, struggles, and cinephilia. One day, Hoshi reveals that she is a woman, but that doesn’t damage the strength of their friendship. When Haru takes a work trip to a town near Hoshi’s home, he catches a glimpse of her from the bullet train window… Morita’s keen interest in new technology and an enduring love for trains come together to create a charming tale of connection in an alienating world. Intrigued by the popularity of subtitled foreign films in Japan at the time, Morita decided to make the onscreen text itself a character in the film, resulting in a pop-avant-garde aesthetic ahead of its time. A romantic tale about lovers who message on the internet, released two years before Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail.
Thursday, December 8 and Sunday, December 11 at 6:30pm
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1999, 130m
Something of a companion piece to the more explicitly genre thrills of The Black House (completed the same year), Keiho is a spellbinding synthesis of the courtroom drama and the psychological thriller that finds Morita diving headlong into the cinematic analysis of pathology and violence. A young actor (Shinichi Tsutsumi) stands trial for a particularly gruesome double murder, but his strange behavior in custody leads the police and criminal psychologists alike to suspect that there’s more to this story than meets the eye. A gripping film with no shortage of twists and turns, Keiho, like much of Morita’s work, also carries a profound political charge, examining abuses of the Japanese penal code’s articles concerning the sentencing of violent criminals who have been subjectively deemed “insane.”
Friday, December 9 at 6:30pm
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1989, 106m
A sui generis film about mourning and starting anew, Kitchen finds Morita adapting the debut novel by Banana Yoshimoto with a spellbinding balance of despair and joy. Orphan Mikage (Ayako Kawahara) has been raised by her grandmother since childhood. When her grandmother passes away, a now-adult Mikage looks to the kitchen as a means of coping and finds herself striking up a friendship with a friend of her grandmother’s and his trans mother. Soon after she moves in with them and gains access to their swanky, tricked-out kitchen. A work suffused with tranquility and a lingering sense of the uncanny, Kitchen is one of Morita’s most curious and mesmerizing films.
Sunday, December 11 at 2:00pm
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1997, 119m
Adapted from a novel by Junichi Watanabe, Morita’s mid-career feature is an expansive mood piece and a meditative tale of forbidden love. Rinko (Hitomi Kuroki), a typesetter and the neglected wife of a doctor, has a chance meeting with Shoichiro (a typically great Kōji Yakusho), an equally married journalist, and the two quickly fall deep into a passionate, world-obliterating affair. Their love seems to renew their respective leases on life, but in a society in which infidelity is eminently taboo, the question lingers: can they ever truly, enduringly be together? Lost Paradise deftly unravels the erotic and psychological consequences of the paramours’ tryst, arriving at a surprising, singular angle on one of cinema’s oldest moral quandaries.
Sunday, December 4 at 1:00pm (introduction by producer Kazuko Misawa and composer Michiru Oshima)
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1984, 101m
A young former preschool teacher (Hiroko Yakushimaru) meets a traveling magician (newcomer Hironobu Nomura) by the sea. The two go on a road trip in order for the teacher to reconnect with a former pupil who has moved out west. Despite their initial attraction, the two bicker on the road until they meet a nomadic jazz singer (Kaori Momoi), an alluring older woman with more life experience. Made when Morita was still riding high off the hit The Family Game and on the heels of his freewheeling Deaths in Tokimeki, the director’s early feature takes a grand and summery youthful meander through Japanese beach towns. Conceived as a star vehicle for pop idol Yakushimaru (Sailor Suit and Machine Gun), Main Theme uses Morita’s sizable, industry-backed budget to present an irreverent road movie full of delightful tricks and confetti.
Sunday, December 4 at 8:45pm
The Mamiya Brothers
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 2006, 119m
A charming, tender comedy that recalls Morita’s earliest narrative features, The Mamiya Brothers follows two siblings, the elder Akinobu (Kuranosuke Sasaki) and the younger Tetsunobu (Muga Tsukaji), 30-somethings who live together and have created an entire world unto themselves. But the comforts of routine and each other’s company do little to compensate for a glaring absence: any love life whatsoever for either. When Akinobu falls for a clerk at a video rental shop, Tetsunobu takes it upon himself to help his brother in his quest for romance, but of course, the best laid plans… A touching late career work, The Mamiya Brothers attests to the staggering scope of Morita’s filmic artistry.
Sunday, December 11 at 9:00pm
Something Like It
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1981, 103m
Life seems to be good for Shintoto, an up-and-coming rakugo artist who has just had his first sexual experience at a local brothel. Lucky for him, he gets to date the beautiful sex worker he meets that day, and a younger high school rakugo aficionado is also vying for his attention. But for clumsy, heart-on-his-sleeve Shintoto, life doesn’t stay rosy for long. Reflecting Morita’s belief that “anybody can write one masterpiece about the world they know best,” his debut theatrical feature (after his three prior 8mm DIY features) is a charming and comical coming-of-age tale set in the worlds of rakugo (a traditional form of Japanese sit-down comedy) and sex work, with impressions of the latter drawn from his interactions with the clientele of the restaurant where he was raised. Real-life rakugo artists are featured in abundance, lending the film an authenticity that enhances Morita’s stylized viewpoint.
Wednesday, December 7 at 6:30pm
Yoshimitsu Morita, Japan, 1982, 67m
Morita’s early feature marked his foray into the pink film and is a coming-of-age tale suffused with anarchic energy and a rebellious touch all his own. Yoichi (Kensuke Miyawaki) falls hard for exotic dancer Gloria (Kaori Okamoto) and visits the local club where she works each day, her beauty dominating his every waking thought. This boyish fixation sets the stage for a host of disappointments and triumphs, and Morita chronicles Yoichi’s journey to adulthood as a clumsy, faltering process fueled by the sheer force of young love. Among the most visually inventive films of its genre, Top Stripper is both a delirious sex parable and a sneakily profound meditation on the boundaries between performer and spectator.
Saturday, December 10 at 9:30pm
This event is co-organized by JFNY and Film at Lincoln Center. This retrospective was organized by Dan Sullivan and Aiko Masubuchi.