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The great Japanese artistic traditions are ‘in danger of being lost in the welter of modernity’. Such is the fear of filmmaker Naomi Kawase who, at one stage in this fascinating documentary about her work, wonders out loud ‘whether anything remains of the Japan of Ozu and Mizoguchi?’
Starting in the 1990s, her own film production has attempted to rediscover those traditions – traditions whose depth and beauty are intimately tied up, so Kawase believes, with their origins in Buddhism.
Yves Montmayeur’s portrait is also a film about dance and music and religious ritual. Sequences in the film show Kawase communing with nature in the forest of Kasuga near her birthplace, while others transport her and her crew to the bustling streets of Tokyo. Throughout, her meditations on art are interspersed with the thoughts of several other singers and performance artists from whom in the past she has drawn inspiration or who have drawn inspiration from her.
Montmayeur has devised a documentary that is not only a feast for the eyes but the ears as well: the images are accompanied by a captivating soundtrack, in which traditional Japanese instruments such as the biwa set the tone.
Yves Montmayeur has been making documentary films with a predilection for Asian cinema, inclu-ding film portraits on Hayao Myazaki, Christopher Doyle, Miike Takashi and Johnnie To since 1999. In 2015, his documentary The 1000 Eyes of Dr Maddin, a portrait of Canadian director Guy Maddin, won the Venice Classic Award for Best Documentary on Cinema at Venice Film Festival. His previous film, Michael H. Profession: Director, a portrait of acclaimed director Michael Haneke (Amour) was released in theaters in many countries and was part of the 2014 edition of DOKUARTS. In 2016, Montmayeur directed Dragon Girls for Arte TV, a film on pop culture and women warriors in Asian cinema, featuring Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Shu Qi, Cheng Pei Pei, Fan Bingbing, Zhao Wei. Besides his work as director, Montmayeur is a film critic and works for Arte Tracks. He also leads master classes with acclaimed directors and actors such as Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), Park Chan-wook (Old Boy), Bong Joon-ho (Parasites), Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Tilda Swinton, Zhang Ziyi (The Grand Master).