The Unknown Japan series, presenting rare Japanese films which have never been released in the U.S. on any format, is in its sixth season. But for curator and PhilaMOCA director Eric Bresler, the fascination with Japanese film dates back much further.
“It was the first realm of international cinema that I ever sat down and studied seriously,” Bresler says. “That goes way back to high school and watching boutique VHS label releases of Japanese films. Film for film I’ve always found it to be the most enriching of all world cinemas.”
Through the biannual Unknown Japan series, Bresler brings the fruits of his particular obsession to Philadelphia audiences. While some might take such an opportunity to binge on some of the extremely odd fare that the country has been known to produce, Bresler aims for a more wide-ranging sampling of its cinematic output. “The whole idea of the series is to introduce both Japanese movie lovers and the uninitiated to this worthwhile world of cinema,” he explains. “So the films are obscure and they’re rare, but I also always make sure that they’re accessible.”
The current six-week series runs the gamut from 1950s family fare, to late-’60s new wave romance, to a contemporary commercial film about collegiate time travelers. While he purposely programs with diversity in mind as far as genres and time periods, Bresler keeps the season in mind for both his summer and winter series. The series began with “Summer Time Machine Blues” (2005), and will end with 1968’s “Farewell to the Summer Light,” set during the end of summer as the season transitions into fall.
In between, the fare tends toward brighter, happier themes. “Peach Boy” is a 1956 family film with puppetry, talking animals and musical numbers. “Summer Garden” (1994) is a heart-warming coming-of-age story, while “Samurai Pirate” (1963) features legendary actor Toshiro Mifune in a Sinbad-style adventure epic. The series’ strangest entry is “The Drifting Classroom,” an English-language film by cult director Nobuhiko Obayashi of “House” fame starring Troy Donahue.
“It all adds up to this really strange, awkward film that has a lot of director Obayashi’s typical off-the-wall special effects,” Bresler says. “And like all his films, even his goriest horror films, there’s a real heart to the film which you don’t expect.”
Unknown Japan 6
Wednesdays, through Sept. 11, 7:30 p.m.
531 N. 12th St.