Jerusalem Cinematheque to present Japanese film fest and ‘Dekalog’

The festival will feature a tribute to director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, which will include his latest film, Drive My Car, one of the movies on the Oscar short list for Best International Feature

 A SCENE from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Dekalog.’ (photo credit: Jerusalem Cinematheque)
A SCENE from Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Dekalog.’
(photo credit: Jerusalem Cinematheque)

In January, the Jerusalem Cinematheque will present two very interesting programs, the Aki-no Japanese Film Festival and a tribute to Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog.

This year’s Aki-no Japanese Film Festival, which runs from January 6 to 15 at the cinematheque (jer-cin.org.il), will feature a selection of the best recent films from the nation that is one of the leading providers of art house cinema. It is presented by the Japanese Embassy and the Japan Foundation, in collaboration with the cinematheque. The festival will also run at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque (cinema.co.il), starting on January 6. 

The festival will feature a tribute to director Ryusuke Hamaguchi, which will include his latest film, Drive My Car, one of the movies on the Oscar short list for Best International Feature. It is based on a short story by Haruki Murakami, a writer whose work has not been adapted for the movies as much as you might expect, given how cinematic much of it is.

Like Murakami’s Norwegian Wood, Drive My Car takes its title from a Beatles song. It tells the story of a theater director and actor (Hidetoshi Nishijima) who is preparing to direct a production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya when his wife suddenly disappears. The husband finds himself gradually bonding with a young, female chauffeur who is assigned to drive him when Uncle Vanya is in rehearsals at a festival in Hiroshima. The movie has won 27 awards around the world, including the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes. 

Several of Hamaguchi’s earlier films will be screened, including all of the following: Asako I & II, Hamaguchi’s 2018 romantic drama about a young woman who falls for a guy named Asako. Years after their breakup, she meets someone who reminds her of him. His 2015 movie, Happy Hour, tells the story of a group of 30-something women who gradually reveal the truth about their lives to each other during a trip to the seaside city of Kobe. His second film to be released in 2021, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, tells three different bittersweet stories, and received the Jury Grand Prize, also known as the Silver Bear, at the Berlin International Film Festival earlier this year. 

 ‘WIFE OF a Spy’ (credit: Kino Lorber) ‘WIFE OF a Spy’ (credit: Kino Lorber)

The opening-night film of the festival, which will be preceded by remarks by representatives of the embassy and the cinematheque, will be The Asadas, a movie by Ryota Nakano about a young photographer who captures his family’s dynamics in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown and tsunami. Nakano’s previous films include Her Love Boils Bathwater, Capturing Dad and A Long Goodbye. 

The boldly patterned and colored works of 92-year-old Yayoi Kusama, one of Japan’s leading artists, are currently the subject of a retrospective at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art that will run until April, and she is the subject of a documentary that will be shown. Dr. Gilit Ivgi will speak at the screening and put Kusama’s work into context for the audience. 

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy, which won the Silver Lion for Best Director at the Venice International Film Festival in 2020, tells the Hitchcock-influenced story of a Japanese couple in Manchuria in 1940 who are suspected of espionage.

Keisuke’s Mishima: The Last Debate is a documentary based on archival footage of a debate the acclaimed and controversial author had with a protester during the student unrest in 1969 and illuminates Mishima’s staunchly held nationalist doctrine. 

Other films on the program include Onoda: 10,000 Nights in the Jungle, by Arthur Harari, based on the true story of a Japanese soldier who hid out in the Philippine jungles for more than a decade following the end of World War II; Akio Fujimoto’s Along the Sea, a drama about three illegal migrants from Vietnam who find work in a fishing village; and A Balance, Yujiro Harumoto’s film about a documentary director who finds it is not so easy to be honest about contradictions in her own life. 

BEGINNING ON January 3 and continuing throughout the month, thanks to the Polish Institute in Tel Aviv and the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Poland, the Jerusalem Cinematheque will present Kieslowski’s Dekalog, a series of films on the theme of the Ten Commandments, as well as a photographic exhibit devoted to these films. 

Kieslowski made Dekalog, which is considered to be one of the greatest works of Polish cinema, for television in 1989, but it has been shown around the world in theaters. It is one of the first instances of a drama made for the small screen winning acclaim as a great work of art.

Stanley Kubrick, in a forward to the publication of the screenplays for Dekalog, which Kieslowski cowrote with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, said the two screenwriters “have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story, they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what’s really going on rather than being told.

“They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don’t realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.”

Dekalog has repeatedly been listed on polls of the best films of the 20th century. 

The themes of sin and redemption run through the entire series, and, seen together – or over the course of a few weeks – Dekalog has a cumulative power.

Kieslowski turned two of the episodes – Five and Six – into the full-length films A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, respectively. The episode on the “Thou Shalt Not Kill” theme is particularly disturbing in that it features a very unappealing victim, and the audience is drawn to identify with the murderer, a drifter mourning the death of his sister. The plea against capital punishment is heartfelt and haunting. 

Along with the screenings, the cinematheque will present an exhibition of photographs by Kieslowski’s friend, the stills photographer Piotr Jaxa, that mixes stills from Dekalog with more recent photos of the drab public housing project where the series is set.

The exhibition, which was curated by Hannah Rothschild, was previously presented as part of the Arava International Film Festival.