Our virtual movie theater will be going dark in August. I’ll be taking part of the month for a long-awaited vacation, and I don’t plan on streaming anything but margaritas into my glass or watching anything but ocean waves. But if you are in the mood for escapism on-screen, I have a few suggestions.
One of my favorite all-time directors is Yasujirō Ozu, many of whose films use the seasons as metaphors for different stages of life. In Early Summer (1951), the always radiant Setsuko Hara plays a willful young woman resisting her family’s attempts to marry her off. In the gently comic The End of Summer (1961), a family is distressed to learn that their elderly patriarch has taken up with his former mistress. Both films employ Ozu’s favorite theme—the clash of generations in modernizing Japan—and contain his trademark emotional warmth and beautifully composed images. They also are so suffused with the sights and sounds of summer in Japan that you almost feel like you are there.
Ozu was clearly an influence on Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose most recent film, Drive My Car (2021), premiered to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival. Early on in quarantine, I spent a couple of pleasant afternoons with his five-hour-long Happy Hour (2015)—another great summer-in-Japan movie about the daily lives of four women in a provincial city. It’s a film composed of small, miraculous moments that Hamaguchi developed with a group of nonprofessional actors, and its long running time makes it the perfect streaming experience: you can, as I did, pause and walk away to meditate on its moments of quiet emotional power.
Equally Ozu-ian and, at nearly four hours long, almost as epic as Happy Hour, is Taiwanese director Edward Yang’s 1991 masterpiece A Brighter Summer Day, which follows the descent of a teenager into juvenile delinquency against the backdrop of political upheaval in Taiwan in the 1960s. Additionally, Yang’s compatriot Hou Hsiao-hsien—one of the most lauded directors in world cinema—made the film A Summer at Grandpa’s (1984) early in his career. It is a touching coming-of-age story of a young brother and sister sent from the city to live with their grandparents in the country when their mother is struck ill.
In a more comedic vein is Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo’s In Another Country (2012), starring legendary French actress Isabelle Huppert in three different stories in which she finds herself in a Korean beach town striking up a friendship with a charmingly dimwitted lifeguard (Yoo Jun-sang). Speaking of travel, one of my favorite cinematic weirdos is Kidlat Tahimik, who revels in poking fun at colonialist stereotypes of his native Philippines. In his groundbreaking Perfumed Nightmare (1977), he plays a country bumpkin—the president and presumably only member in his village of the Wernher von Braun fan club—who dreams of becoming the first Filipino astronaut. He fails, but through a series of twists of fate, he finds himself in Europe, which does indeed feel like another planet when seen from his perspective.
Finally, the recent release of and subsequent controversy over Morgan Neville’s documentary Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (2021) sparked me to finally watch the Hong Kong episode of Bourdain’s television series Parts Unknown. If you enjoyed our recent Wong Kar Wai retrospective, you’ll want to seek it out too. The episode was shot by Christopher Doyle, the brilliant cinematographer responsible for the signature ravishing look of Wong’s films. Doyle also serves as Bourdain’s eccentric, motormouthed tour guide as they explore the food and culture of the city and lament the disappearance of its traditions.
Once you’ve finished your virtual world tour, I hope you’ll join us for our fall film programs. In September, we’ll be looking at the emergence of Thai cinema in the twenty-first century, from Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s dreamy art films to campy extravaganzas like Wisit Sasanatieng’s cult classic Tears of the Black Tiger (2000). On September 29th, we’ll be celebrating National Silent Movie Day with a special online screening including live musical accompaniment. And in October, we present the DC Turkish Film Festival with a wide-ranging selection of recent films. See you then!
Catch up on conversations we’ve had with filmmakers over the past year with our playlist.