Mon effroyable histoire du cinéma
by Tom Mes
France is a country where Kiyoshi Kurosawa has had a higher profile than elsewhere in the West, so it is no surprise that French readers have been blessed with no less than two books about the prolific filmmaker (plus a translation of Kurosawa's own novelisation of his film Pulse, available from Philippe Picquier as 'Kairo'). Both were released by the same publisher, Rouge Profond. Kiyoshi Kurosawa: Mémoire de la disparition is an analytical essay by Diane Arnaud, while Mon effroyable histoire du cinéma is a translation of a book-length interview with Kurosawa by one of his protégés, the filmmaker and critic Makoto Shinozaki (director of Not Forgotten and Okaeri).
Mon effroyable histoire du cinéma is a gripping descent into Kurosawa's fascination with horror films. Shinozaki, himself a longtime genre fanatic, is the ideal man for the job. First gaining notice for his long interviews with a variety of filmmakers from around the world, he was one of the members of the cinéclub at Rikkyo University whose visions of film and filmmaking were shaped by the lectures Kurosawa gave there. Shinozaki's own career in filmmaking began as Kurosawa's assistant on the making of the heavily self-referential The Guard from Underground.
The conversation transcribed in these pages take the reader on a trek through the history of the Japanese horror film, as the pair joyfully reminisces about scores of titles completely unknown outside their homeland - despite all the recent efforts of writers and distributors alike, we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the Japanese horror genre. Kurosawa also gives due notice to Chiaki Konaka and Norio Tsuruta as inventors of the style known today as J-horror, which he defines as "a typically Japanese way to create fear."
But the scope is not limited to Japan. Poltergeist and Texas Chainsaw Massacre director Tobe Hooper is a constant presence and this book includes a chapter devoted entirely to his films. Nothing more than a faded one-hit wonder to most, Hooper is nothing less than a master in the eyes of Kurosawa, who can back up his beliefs with very solid arguments. There are more than a few examples of such "sacrilege" to the horror canon, as the director expresses his doubts about such sacrosanct offerings as Dawn of the Dead (he prefers Fulci's Zombi), Halloween (which he calls "banal") and Psycho (he compares the shower scene to several sequences in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in favour of the latter).
Mon effroyable histoire du cinéma is at once an interview, a biography, a history, a monograph and a lesson in cinema. It is also an unabashed expression of cinephilia: reading Kurosawa and Shinozaki's fascinating exchange, which takes them from Hooper to Cassavetes to Wenders to Godard and back to Carpenter and Fulci, all with equal glee, it becomes quite clear to the reader how pointless it is to separate "genre" and "arthouse". By building fences, you only end up imprisoning yourself.