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Somai Shinji’s Sailor Suit and Machine Gun


I’ve long thought that Somai Shinji is the key filmmaker for understanding Japanese cinema after 1980. If long shot long takes came to dominate Japanese art films from the nineties on, it had less to do with Mizoguchi than with Somai, himself a master of the form. His cinema also left an indelible impression on me. The first of his films I saw, Moving (Ohikkoshi, 1993), left me stunned, and I still believe Typhoon Club (Taifu kurabu, 1985) is one of the best Japanese films ever. Yet in part because his early movies were categorized in the idol genre, the gatekeepers of Japanese film in the eighties did little to promote his films and even today few of his dozen or so works are available on disc with English subtitles. There have been retrospectives, some of which I was involved in. I did a panel on Somai at the 2005 Jeongju International Film Festival (my contribution to the retro catalog can be found here), and I gave a talk on the director at the Deutschen Filmmuseum in Frankfurt in 2015. These were occasions for me to think about Somai, but I still don’t feel I have a complete grasp of him. Access to his cinema remains woefully limited outside Japan.

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