Raised in the tumult of Japan’s industrial powerhouse, the 11 men and women profiled in A Different Kind of Luxury have all made the transition to sustainable, fulfilling lives. Based on Andy Couturier's popular articles in The Japan Times, this lushly designed volume has a wealth of stories about real people who have created an abundance of time for contemplation, connecting with the natural world, and contributing to their communities. In their success is a lesson for us all: live a life that matters. Read an excerpt of the book here or here. Read a review of the book here, here, or here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Film screening of Masanori Oe's movies in Santa Cruz, Sat Mar 8, 7PM

I will be offering a free film screening of a few short experimental movies made in 1967 and 1968 by Masanori Oe, who I profiled in Chapter 11 of  A Different Kind of Luxury.  The screening will be at 7 PM at my writing studio in Santa Cruz CA, at 147 SOUTH River Street, above Mobo Sushi, by the Trader Joe's parking lot.  It's upstairs in room 203, and the entry code to the outside door is 0497* (that's STAR at the end), you may have to try it twice. 

The studio is relatively small so most people may have to sit on the floor, although we do have some chairs. PLEASE RSVP so I know you are coming. andy@theopening.org  Please bring your own popcorn or snacks if you want them, or just come as you are. 
Screen Shot from The Great Society

Screen Shot from Head Games

I describe these films in the book but have never shown them in public before.  You can read a description of the movies below, but they are intense, beautiful, powerful and in the original sense of the term "psyche-delic", "to open the soul".  This is a rare opportunity, and I'm not sure if I will do it more than once.  

The films are "Head Games" about the Great Be In in Central Park in the spring of 1967, "No Game" about the protest at the Pentagon in 1968, and "Great Society" a true masterpiece looking back at the entire sixties, DURING the sixties--no after filter-- projected on six simultaneous screens, with a wrenching musical score.  These are intense movies of intense times.  After the movies, we can talk, and if time permits, I will show some slides about Mr. Oe's life today in the mountains of Japan. 

Here are some quotes from the book, the first by Marvin Fishman, who was Masanori's filmmaking partner.

(Do you have a copy of the book yet?  Please buy it so that it remains in print)

“We filmed the Great Be In in Central Park in the spring of that 1967. We titled the film Head Games to indicate that even though the event had the idea of protest of the Vietnam war to it, this kind of thing, a Be In, was not the answer to the war. Everyone was in costume.

"By the time we went on to film the protest at the Pentagon in October of 1968, things had changed a lot. You could see how much the focus changed in the difference between the films. We called that No Game, to say that this was not a game anymore: this was violent. It went on to became a major film. The demonstration was a mind-shattering experience for all of us.

“The film shows how a nonviolent demonstration became violent. The question was how do you take care of each other, and how do you film violence and not get hurt.

There had been a change in the mood of the country. I don’t know what we expected, but the police became less tolerant; there was a lot of talk of ‘lawlessness’ and here we were invading the Pentagon, the center of U.S. military might. They brought in a lot of U.S. Marshals: you’ve seen those images—redneck thugs with pot bellies, crew cuts, and truncheons.

“That movie we made was a real shocker. We were trying to make a statement that this government was becoming repressive of free speech, and we were trying to make it in as stark and shocking a manner as possible. The black and white gave us a grainy look, and then we made it more high contrast. We wanted to say, “Here is your government.”

Marvin Fishman and Masanori Oe filmakers in the 1960s

Masanori now sets up the screen and projector, turns down the lights, and then all of a sudden I’m plunged back into another world. Even though I’m in this mud-walled house in the mountains of Japan, I am able to witness the immediate and vibrant, chaotic ’60s counterculture world in full blossom, “as is.”
People parade with signs and painted faces, dispersed on the streets of a late-winter New York, some perhaps high, or angry, or just playing guitar on the grass. It’s a slow-motion movement of carnivalesque faces with soap bubbles floating in the air in the war-torn fever dream of the Us-versus-Them, red-scare, Gulf-of-Tonkin, daily-body-count sixties. These are more than documentaries, though. They are art. It’s a controlled kind of wild: the hand-held camera shots at cockamamie angles and the syntax of rebellion inherent in the cuts between police batons and street protest, the voices shouting each other down. Yet neither are they gratuitously shocking, or easy, or pat.

The camera movements don’t startle, but neither do they settle. What’s next? What’s next? Who knows? Flashing lights, throbbing and dreamlike, and absolutely unresolved, like dreams are.  

The lights come up just slightly as Masanori prepares another film, this one entitled “Great Society.” He says that his studio was asked by the national CBS people to 
do a major project, an overview of the entire decade, for the annual CBS network convention in New York, with permission to use footage from the CBS archive. He explains that it was made with six different screens going simultaneously in order to show the many-sided nature of the times.

Now we’re into the fast-cut, jump-at-you images, one after the other. The screen splits into six, strobe lights flashing, soldiers marching, JFK shot, Oswald shot, miniskirts, Vietnamese POWs, space walks, napalm-burnt children, fighter jets dropping bombs, the American flag, LBJ driving home a point forcefully at a lectern. Too much is happening at once for the mind to perceive. The soundtrack is riveting and disturbing: heart beats, guitar distortion, gurus chanting, a woman screaming as someone is shot, a koto twanging as a mushroom cloud fills the sky.

The images jumping from race riots to liquid light shows to atomic blasts are all in present tense here, not an artifact, or shorthand for “the sixties” digested by some future generation. The images are contemporary, and are rendered as such by the hallucinatory film grammar, prompting again the dilation of the psyche.

When the lights come back on, I am transformed. Only sixteen minutes. The film is a masterpiece, and everyone in the room knows it. None of us can speak. He’s captured the overlapping movements: a new spiritual consciousness not separate from the very political, antiwar immediacy of the moment.

Masanori says that CBS refused to show it again, and there were threats from affiliates to drop out of the network if this was the kind of thing that CBS wanted to spend their money on. He explains the idea of having six different screens was to show how everything was happening all at the same time. “The overwhelm and disorientation break down barriers and open people to the possibility of a change, a change in consciousness.”

Talking afterwards together, drinking tea, Masanori says, “Today people think the word ‘psychedelic’ means just taking drugs, but the main meaning is from the Latin roots of the words, psyche-delos ‘to open the soul.’ So if the method for doing this was drugs, that was OK, but it also included yoga, meditation, and the exploration of thought itself.”

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