Contemporary national cinemas
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
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.