Women in focus at sixth SF Japan film fest

Even though it ran two decades ago when the Asian Art Museum was still squeezed into the side of the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, “Hokusai and Hiroshige,” the exhibit of great Japanese prints, remains a treasured memory.

Asian Art Museum curator Yoko Woodson pulled old Japanese drawings from storage boxes in the Honolulu Academy of Arts’ James Michener Collection to create the major two-part exhibition of seminal works by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858).

These masters of ukiyo-e (“picture(s) of the floating world”) come to the area again at the sixth San Francisco Japan Film Festival, running Sept. 28-Oct. 7 at New People Cinema in Japantown — but with a fascinating twist.

The focus of “Kurara: The Dazzling Life of Hokusai’s Daughter” is on a young woman living freely and unconventionally in highly regulated 19th century Japan, where women had no rights.

Painter Katsushika Oi, also known as O-Ei, assisted her aged father as he completed his iconic “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” and went on to an artistic career of her own, overcoming odds with her “kurara” or dazzling brilliance.

Screening at noon Oct. 6, the movie is among several free festival offerings, but reservations (at www.brownpapertickets.com) are required. New People Cinema has 143 seats, and tickets are first-come, first serve.

“Finally,” a film covering J-pop legend Namie Amuro’s final tour, gets its first U.S. screening at the festival at 7 p.m., Sept. 29. It documents “one of the biggest events ever in Japan,” following Amuro’s shocking announcement to retire at age 39. Her two-and-a-half hour performance in the Tokyo Dome, with some 30 hit songs, is in the movie.

Another music-themed offering among the slate of two dozen current Japanese feature, live-action and animation films is “Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda,” at 7:15 p.m. Oct. 4. The documentary profiles the anti-nuclear activist and Oscar-winning composer of “The Last Emperor,” who did the soundtrack for “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” and played a principal role of prison camp commander.

Also of special interest are “Sekigahara,” a film adaptation of Ryotaro Shiba’s best-selling novel “The Battle of Sekigahara,” about the decisive 1600 conflict that established the last shogunate to control Japan, screening at noon Sept. 29 with an appearance by director Masato Harada; and “A Tale of Love and Honor: Life in Gion,” at 3:30 p.m. Sept. 29, about a 200-year old special tea house in Kyoto run by women.

IF YOU GO
Japan Film Festival
Where: New People Cinema, 1746 Post St., S.F.
When: Sept. 28 through Oct. 7
Tickets: $15 to $30; some free
Contact: (415) 345-1975; www.jffsf.org

Janos Gereben

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