This year it’s got a new name: East × West. “It’s a good cross-section,” explained Tim Matheson, who’s curating the big blend of films coming from the Far East. Okay, maybe he’s being a little humble, especially about a series of films that run the gamut from B-pictures to the Asian version of an epic blockbuster. “It’s a great sampling of what’s out there. And I’m convinced Asia is where it’s at for film today. These films are fun, heroic, and much more exciting than what’s being made in the West. Over there,” he added, meaning everywhere from Thailand to Korea, “chances are being taken; it’s a lot different than the ways that movies are made in America where films are derivative or sequels and marketed to certain specific demographics.”
Matheson should know from American films. “Turns out I grew up in a great time for American movies,” he said. Working in television since the early 1960s, he’s most famous for playing Otter in Animal House. His aesthetic is clearly leaning to the Asian film, though. “I mean, just look at the film most people think will likely win best picture at the Oscars. The Departed. Now [Martin] Scorsese is a great director, and, no doubt he made it his own, but it’s based on a Hong Kong film, Infernal Affairs. Maybe seeing films like this will stimulate the American market again,” said Matheson. “Who knows?”
Meanwhile, SBIFF goers can get inspired from works as varied as anime, martial arts, ghost stories, and, this year, there is even a smidgen of sex. “They call them pink films over there,” Matheson said. Indeed, the most, er, stimulating I saw was The Glamorous Life of Sachiko Hanai. Though the sex was soft-core, it was pleasantly relentless and mixed in with a hilarious level of political satire aimed at contemporary postmodern intellectuals and George Bush. The other pink film — we would call it blue — is Sukeban Boy, a 62-minute piece that’s either a satire of a fetish film or the best one ever made.
Lest you think it’s all lowbrow fun, Matheson is most enthusiastic describing The King and the Clown, “an epic film with a gay subtheme,” he said, though it’s more like David Lean than Brokeback Mountain and has already earned $75 million, making it the highest grossing Korean film to date.
Thailand’s cinematic skills have been more conspicuous lately, and this year it’s Art of the Devil Part 2, by Parsith Buranajan. “It’s a love story and a ghost story,” said the clearly delighted Matheson.
Matheson makes particular note of the anime titled Paprika, which reveals that Japanese cartoons can be explicitly psychedelic, too. If there’s anything Japanese that Matheson seems genuinely close to losing it for, however, it’s the exciting Takashi Miike, who is probably best known to S.B. audiences for the chilling Audition, which showed in last year’s East × West series. (Matheson likes to describe his film style as being, “the Citizen Kane of arterial blood-splatter films.”) But this year, Miike is represented by a kid’s film called The Great Yokai War, which is closer to Lord of the Rings than Ringu. “This is a guy who makes two movies a year. I wish we could get him to come to the festival some year,” laughed Mattheson, “so I can bow down before him and say, ‘We’re not worthy.’”
Obviously Matheson has both passion and a sense of humor for this curating job. He hopes people will come to see the films and keep an open mind. “See two films, something small and something big, at least. One from column A and one from column B. I think you’ll see some great works that aren’t derivative, not constantly tongue-in-cheek, but just a lot of great filmmaking.”