Established by the larger-than-life, controversial businessman, producer and visionary Haruki Kadokawa, the game-changing Kadokawa Film studio redefined Japanese popular culture and media from the late 1970s through the 1980s with a series of highly marketed blockbusters, pop idol vehicles and off-the-walls genre films, each a unique blend of mainstream pop and experimental cinema unlike anything Japan had seen at the time.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Kadokawa’s shift from publishing house to cinematic powerhouse, Japan Society presents Pop! Goes Cinema: Kadokawa Film & 1980s Japan, a mini-retrospective of six celebrated and rarely-screened selections from Kadokawa — almost all in brand-new 4k restorations.
Running November 8 through December 17, the series presents the wildly popular genre favorites Sailor Suit and Machine Gun and The Little Girl Who Conquered Time, both among some of the most defining films of the 1980s in Japan, as well as more obscure titles that embody Kadokawa’s trademark highbrow-lowbrow clash of sexy, broody, sensual and cool. Revelations abound for the uninitiated and familiar alike from Yusaku Matsuda’s creepy, all-or-nothing performance in The Beast to Die, to the hauntingly beautiful melodies of W’s Tragedy by Joe Hisaishi. Rounding out the series are the unconventional romance Play it, Boogie-Woogie, and the bigger-than-big budget Virus, starring a globe-spanning international cast.
Featured filmmakers include some of Japan’s most revered cult and genre directors, notably Toshiya Fujita, Kinji Fukasaku and Nobuhiko Obayashi, as well as several career-making and/or career-defining performances from Yusaku Matsuda, one of Japanese cinema’s biggest stars though virtually unknown outside of Japan, to Tomoyo Harada and Hiroko Yakushimaru, Kadokawa’s biggest idol stars, whose debut roles are included in the series.
With the exception of Play it, Boogie-Woogie all films have been newly restored digitally as 4k scans output to 2k DCPs, with these screenings marking the U.S. Premieres of the restorations. None of these films are available on home video with English subtitles.
When Haruki Kadokawa transformed the mid-size publishing house into a film studio, he formulated a revolutionary-for-its-time “mixed media” marketing strategy that sold films with crossover books and soundtrack albums. Jumpstarting the 1970s blockbuster phenomenon in Japan, in just ten years the studio produced six of the ten most successful films in Japanese film history. In addition to producing over 70 films and directing six, the flamboyant and eccentric Kadokawa was a prize-winning poet, accomplished sailor, and even the head Shinto priest of his own shrine.
“While an older generation of film critics despised Kadokawa and his films as a step towards depoliticization and a totalising consumer culture, Kadokawa’s media mix captured the burgeoning anything-goes atmosphere of 1980s pop culture in Japan,” writes series curator Alexander Zahlten, Associate Professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University, and Program Director for Nippon Connection Film Festival in Frankfurt, Germany from 2002 to 2010. “Kadokawa Film defined an era – and laid the groundwork for the vibrant Japanese media ecology of today.”
Japan Society’s Senior Film Programmer Aiko Masubuchi adds, “These selections represent a monumental shift in Japanese cinema that happened during the early 1980s, an often overlooked or unfairly maligned decade in Japanese film history that, for better or worse, completely changed popular culture in Japan. While many Japanese audiences will be very familiar with these titles and their stars, this is largely an introduction for New Yorkers to the uniquely spectacular cinema of excess and imagination that characterized Kadokawa Film.”
Pop! Goes Cinema is an extension of 40th anniversary celebrations happening this year throughout Japan, including a Kadokawa-organized festival so popular that an encore is in the works, and a major retrospective at Tokyo’s National Film Center, Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo.
Admission: $13/$10 seniors and students/$9 Japan Society members. Special Offer: Purchase tickets for at least three films in the same transaction and receive $2 off each ticket. Tickets can be purchased in person at the Japan Society website or by calling the box office at 212-715-1258.