Observational cinema is both basic yet difficult, a tension stemming from the need to make images speak beyond their simple order of presentation. Seen from this angle, Kazuhiro Soda is one of the most talented observational filmmakers of his generation. Born in Japan, he moved to New York in his early 20s to study film direction. After four fictional films and a television stint, he made a transformative discovery
in the work of Frederick Wiseman, whose approach matched Soda’s ambitions, which he put into practice with Campaign in 2007.
The absence of preliminary filming or explanatory narration, the choice of circumscribed topics and the fact that he does his own editing all recall Wiseman, but Soda has crafted a cinema all his own. He has not refrained from intervening on occasion, his approach to filming is freely adaptable to different situations, his editing retains some apparently anecdotal moments – symptoms of life itself, which we might forget to watch as it goes by. In a filmmaking practice dedicated to individuals, encounters sometimes shape the course of the film. The gaze expands as sequences pass. This art of “ramification” leads to strikingly sharp and insightful perspectives on human society.
Steeped in the poetry of the unexpected and devoid of pointed discussion, Soda’s films are not at all activist. The opinions and analyses are a writer’s musings: he has written several books, including some on Japanese politics. While his approach to filmmaking is openly essayistic, this is not an obstacle to “being political.” Social inequality, changes in civilization, environmental disasters and institutional influence are central to the stories that come into view through his profiles. Through Soda’s camera, Japan is never foreign to the contemporary reality we all share. The human comedy, often captured with real wit, resonates in his work with universal power.
His most recent films, which are all included in this comprehensive retrospective, seem at first glance to be polar opposites to one another: The Big House is a collective film, shot with students and professors from the University of Michigan, where Soda teaches. It is set in an American football stadium. Inland Sea, meanwhile, is inversely intimate and personal, a series of portraits of elderly men living in isolation on the Japanese coast. And yet, these two worlds share the great issues of the century, and the two approaches both bear the hallmarks of a filmmaker who is as methodical as he is sensitive.
Explore the Kazuhiro Soda : Making Images Speak retrospective
A Flower and a Woman | 1995 | USA | 6 min | without dialogue
A Night in New York | 1995 | USA | 10 min | without dialogue
Freezing Sunlight | 1996 | USA | 86 min | o.v. English
The Flicker | 1997 | USA | 17 min | o.v. English
Campaign | 2007 | Japan, USA | 120 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
Mental | 2008 | Japan, USA | 135 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
Peace | 2010 | Japan, USA, South Korea | 76 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
Theatre 1 | 2012 | Japan, USA | 172 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
Theatre 2 | 2012 | Japan, USA, France | 170 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
Campaign 2 | 2013 | Japan, USA | 149 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
Oyster Factory | 2015 | Japan, USA | 145 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
The Big House | 2018 | USA, Japan | 119 min | o.v. English
Inland Sea | 2018 | Japan, USA | 122 min | o.v. Japanese with English subtitles
Presented in collaboration with the Japan Foundation, la Chaire René Malo, the Concordia University’s Studio Arts Department Visiting Artist’s Speaker’s Series Conversations in Contemporary Art and the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema - Concordia University
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He makes one film a year, following a set of strict filmmaking rules that he has published on his website. A tireless champion of observational cinema...