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The Twain Shall Meet

East × West Events

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.”

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