15 Jul 2019

In a Nutshell: Takatoshi Arai

Still shot from Night Mother Scent

On his right forearm, he has a Popeye tattoo that he got inked during his visit to the USA, and he wears a permanent bow tie on his chest, because of some film festivals dress codes, as he says jokingly. There's an aura of sincerity and unpretentiousness surrounding him, and just a faint hint of eccentricity which marks his works. He names Robert Bresson, Sergei Parajanov, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Aki Kaurismaki and Tsai Ming-Liang as his role models, and claims that he usually eschews screenplay, and doesn't employ metaphors in the creative process, yet his films, especially the latest and longest one, Sakana (Fish), appear as allegorical, not to mention insightful and multilayered.

His name is Takatoshi Arai and he is a young and promising Japanese indie filmmaker whose approach to cinema could be described as intuitive and impromptu, and it's pretty safe to label his methods as 'experimental'. Five of his recent shorts - ThiefColor Sex Death, Quantity Amount Quality, Night Mother Scent, and the aforementioned Fish - were screened at the Labeerint bar in my hometown of Niš last night, with the humble, yet commendable event hosted by the Taka association and their cultural exchange representative, Ms Naoko Kamba. In the Skype Q&A, the audience had the opportunity to discuss with Mr Arai himself who was eager to show a traditional bamboo flute (Shakuhachi?) utilized as a prop in Color, Sex Death, as well as frula that he bought in Belgrade a few years ago when JSFF (Japanese Serbian Film Festival) took place. He also revealed his shooting equipment - iPhone, digital camera and 'a cheap tripod', in his own words - which should've come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the shoestring budget filmmaking of our time.

Remaining secretive about the themes and meanings behind the oft-puzzling and dialogue-free juxtapositions of moving images and sounds, he asks the viewers to be active / open-minded and leaves plenty of space for their own different interpretations. The reality of his creations comes off as twisted, whether it's fragmented into a series of rhythmically edited B&W photographs (Thief) or transformed into a full-blown (introspective?) nightmare (Night Mother Scent, the most surreal of the bunch and this writer's personal favorite). In Quantity Amount Quality and Color Sex Death, Arai demonstrates childlike playfulness (or rather, impishness), applying stop-motion technique to apples and a pair of Converse shoes, respectively, whereas in Fish - his most accessible and well-rounded offering - he explores guilty conscience of his protagonist, if the google translation of the trailer description is any indication. (To my question about the possible 'Lynchian' connection between fish and ideas, he answers that he simply enjoys fishing.) Common to all of his films - reflections of his versatility - is a certain performative quality, the keen sense of visual composition, the collaboration with non-professional actors and the skill to make the most out of a tight budget. Arai currently strives to complete his first sci-fi feature, 2222, which will be followed by a horror and a comedy.


Trailer for Sakana

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