Film: "The Minamata Mural"
Film: "The Minamata Mural"
WhenSunday, December 8, 2019, 2 PM
SponsorAsian Art Museum
VenueFreer Gallery of Art
Event LocationMeyer Auditorium
CostFree. Seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis. Auditorium doors open approximately 30 minutes before each show.

Copresented with the Smithsonian Year of Music

After a handful of groundbreaking films detailing the tragedy and suffering of the mercury-poisoned Japanese town of Minamata, documentary master Noriaki Tsuchimoto revisits the subject of Minamata through the eyes of the celebrated husband-and-wife painting duo Iri and Toshi Maruki. Tsuchimoto follows the Marukis from their quaint homestead studio, where they paint slews of ghastly, psychotropic mural panels depicting the effects of Minamata disease, to the streets of Minamata, where they meet and paint portraits of several victims of mercury poisoning. On full display is Iri and Toshi’s riveting artistic process, combining exacting focused brushstrokes from Toshi with bouts of spontaneous ink-and-water slatherings from Iri, in one of the richer depictions of visual creation in documentary cinema.

Perhaps, though, it is the blend of wrenching string tone clusters and shakuhachi melodies from the great composer Tōru Takemitsu that elevates the rarely screened Minamata Mural to the level of a neglected masterwork. Takemitsu’s score plays a vital role in allowing the Marukis’ mural panels to flourish in all of their complex beauty and horror, underscoring their visual catharsis with a more primally guttural one. Tsuchimoto and Takemitsu choose to bookend these moments of orchestral gushing with long periods of musical silence, a choice that rather than feeling austere fits Tsuchimoto’s artful form far better than any set of through-composed pieces ever would. It is from silence that Takemitsu’s precise and painterly score builds its awesome power, and it is by no coincidence that Takemitsu’s most widely read compendium of writings on music, film, and art is titled “Confronting Silence.”

As a meta-portrait of artists grappling with a traumatic reality by Noriaki Tsuchimoto, a giant of documentary art whose work is almost never screened outside of academic settings, and as a fascinating entry in the filmography of Tōru Takemitsu, a composer whose unrivaled contributions to documentary music have gone overlooked for too long, The Minamata Mural is not to be missed. (Dir. Noriaki Tsuchimoto, Japan, 1981, 111 min., 16mm, Japanese with English subtitles)

Preceded by Kyoto (Dir. Kon Ichikawa, 1970, 37 min., digital projection), another lyrical Takemitsu-scored film that paints a meditative and beautiful portrait of Japan’s cultural capital.

Screening organized by guest curator Max Carpenter, with special thanks to Kelly Li for her translation of English subtitles.

Image credit: Courtesy of Siglo, Ltd.

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