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Shinji Aoyama: ’A Jap Who Loves John Ford’

One of the most prominent members of the team of auteurs that have marked the lost decade of the ’90s is most certainly the amazing Shinji Aoyama. He was born in 1964 on Kyushu, the most southern Japanese island, whose landscape and dialect became the essential trademarks of his films. Aoyama started his artistic career as a film critic in the Japanese issue of Cahiers, and later on as a collaborator of the cult Icelandic filmmaker Fridrik Thor Fridriksson on his project Cold Fever. In his low budget second movie Helpless, in which the motif of violence as the synonym of power runs through the series of hero’s existential crises, Aoyama does not recycle the visual poetics of his Icelandic guru, as one would presume. On the contrary, Aoyama uses patterns typical of the genre film.

Similar themes haunt him in the ’policier’ Obsession. Aoyama’s statement that his most impressive film Eureka is actually a Western should be taken with a grain of salt. His great love for John Ford is reflected in his attempts to express the emotions of his ’trackers’ through action, not words, but also in the way he uses internal landscape. Contrary to Ozu who is focused on neon sights of the old Tokyo, on transmission lines with telephone wires and factory chimneys, Aoyama leaves the urban milieu, chooses the monumental cinemascope in the sepia-tint and goes off to the untouched nature, fascinated by wide, deserted spaces (canyons, high planes, volcanoes).

This Fordian landscape assumes the role of the leading actor and is no less sensitive to the beating and suffering from the characters of flesh and blood (take a look at a freshly picked plant that sheds plant juice instead of tears). Aoyama’s post Goddard contemplation on the New Economy (Desert Moon), although inferior to Eureka due to the author’s unsupportable arrogance and pretentiousness, proves that the director prefers traditional family values. In Eureka, wife and daughter of the main character disclose their safe haven on the run from the urban chaos. ’If my character is driving a car, I want you to feel that you are sitting beside him,’ said Aoyama. In Eureka we though that the pleasant ride would go on forever, however, already on the next drive — in Desert Moon — Aoyama crashed into the bumper of his arrogance. Nevertheless, this does not diminish the significance of his directorial individuality.

Text is accompanied by Aoyama’s filmography.

Dragan Rubeša

Contemporary Japan Film

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