by Chris MaGee
Kanai Katsu may not be a name that many of you are familiar with and I won't try and puff myself up by saying that I am . I'm not, but after reading this post at Aaron Gerow's Japanese film website I have to say I am very, very intrigued.
Born in 1936 in Kanagawa Prefecture Katsu went on to study at the Department of Film, Faculty of Arts at Nihon University in Tokyo and after graduating in 1960 he joined Daiei Studios as a cameraman. There he worked under legendary filmmaker Teinosuke Kingasa, the director of such seminal silent films as "A Page of Madness" and "Crossroads". Katsu's independent spirit wasn't accustomed to working within the structure of the studio system though, so four short years after joining Daiei he left to go freelance. He continued to work on various commercial productions but in 1968 he founded his own company, Kanai Katsumaru Production and in the next few years he ade a trilogy of films that would fascinate, confuse and shock the cinematic establishment. Influenced by his interests in existential philosophy and surrealism Katsu's "Smiling Milky Way Trilogy", made up of 1969's "The Desert Archipelago" (above), 1971's "Good-bye", and 1973's "The Kingdom", would end up receiving praise from the likes of film scholars Max Tessier and Tony Rayns and would win honours at the Nyon International Film Festival where "The Desert Archipelago", about a man raised by nuns, would take home the Grand Prix in 1969. In more recent years Katsu has split his time between teaching at both Tokyo Zokei University and the Image Forum Institute of the Moving Image and making short surreal films based on the Japanese poetic forms of tanka and haiku.
Despite his influence and critical success Katsu's works have never gained the same kind of mainstream acknowledgement as his avant-garde peer Shuji Terayama, but now Katsu himself has assembled his entire filmography into a limited edition 5-disc DVD set titled "The World of Kanai Katsu" that's he's selling through his personal website for ¥20,000 yen a copy (roughly $230.00 CAD). It might seem steep, but not only are these discs region free, but they all have English subtitles! For something this rare I think that's a deal.
If you're unconvinced, but are a fan of Terayama, late period Seijun Suzuki and avant-garde video artist Takahiko Iimura then check out this trailer for "The World of Kani Katsu" below and I'm sure you'll start thinking of ways to save up a couple hundred dollars.