by Jim Ridley
The Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival is scheduled for April 12 on the Courthouse square, but those blossoms will be splashed with crimson this weekend when the inaugural Nashville Japanese Film Festival gets underway Friday through Sunday at Watkins. We'll have more later this week on the NJaFF — a promising slate of live-action, anime and documentary features, all but a few making local premieres — but we wanted to give Nashville cult-movie nuts a heads-up about two items of particular interest.
First — and this is the shocker, for anyone expecting safe, canonical programming — is what looks to be Nashville's introduction to the movies of Sion Sono, one of Japan's most controversial contemporary directors and a looming figure on the international festival circuit. A hard-to-categorize filmmaker, author and poet who's worked in everything from horror to the perverse genre known as ero guro, he's most notorious in this country for his 2001 hit Suicide Club, whose insanely gory train-station setpiece remains a YouTube triple-dare.
You can see that clip referenced (again, if you dare) in the trailer above for the NJaFF's selection, 2005's Noriko's Dinner Table, a prequel of sorts that's said to fill in some of the backstory about the earlier film's cult of self-destruction. (It's also said to be more subdued and subtly creepy than some of Sono's other films, but those who've seen Sono's Cold Fish or his killer-hair opus Exte know that grants a lot of leeway.)
Noriko's Dinner Table is showing 6:30 p.m. Sunday in the Watkins auditorium. If enough folks turn out, maybe the festival will take that as a mandate next year to show a particular wish-list item for local cinephiles, Sono's four-hour 2008 festival favorite Love Exposure.
But that's not the only item of interest the festival has for cult-movie fanatics. If you've yet to experience the vortex of madness that is the work of the dauntingly prolific Takashi Miike, his 2010 jidaigeki (period drama) 13 Assassins makes a fine introduction. Only in Miike's filmography could this bloody, exciting large-scale action thriller be described as "restrained" — but if this impressive epic about a samurai who takes on a power-mad lord in the waning days of the Tokugawa shogunate lacks some of the jaw-dropping highs of his more uneven movies, it has also has a polish, swift pace and care those movies sometimes lack.
Show up for this 3 p.m. Sunday, and maybe next year's festival will take a chance on more Miike (loved ya in Hostel!). We vote early for Shield of Straw or Lesson of the Evil — but don't hold your breath.
Here's hoping the turnout for this weekend's event gives the NJaFF a mandate to broaden its scope even more, whether to past masters such as Yasujiro Ozu and Mikio Naruse, whose films are never shown locally; or to rising auteurs like Miwa Nishikawa. Nashville missed out on movies like Koji Wakamatsu's United Red Army, Nobohiro Yamashita's A Gentle Breeze in the Village and Katsuhito Ishii's The Taste of Tea and Funky Forest: The First Contact. It'd be great to see them find a home. Kudos to festival organizer Yoshie Lewis for her efforts.
The festival begins 6 p.m. Friday with a reception and remarks by Japanese Consul-General Motohiko Kato, followed at 7 p.m. by a screening of Akira Kurosawa's Dreams. More to come tomorrow, including a schedule.