Anthology Film Archives


April 2 – April 7

A sadistic nun totes a machine gun. A man gives painful birth to a doppelganger, which emerges from his own back. A band of pickpockets, who refuse to steal money, pilfer the eyes from the dignitaries depicted on Japanese banknotes. Welcome to the surreal world of visionary filmmaker Katsu Kanai.

In Kanai’s films, allegories of postwar Japanese history meld with personal experiences and unrestrained fantasies. Social and political topics are refracted through an oneiric prism. Drawing on both Japanese and Western culture, high art and pop, Kanai gleefully dislodges all boundaries. Born in 1936 to a farming family in Kanagawa, Kanai graduated from the Nihon University Film Department. Afterwards, he worked in the camera division at Daiei Studios and then as a freelance cameraman. In 1968, he started his own company, Kanai Katsumaru Production, in order to direct, produce, and distribute his “Smiling Milky Way Trilogy,” encompassing THE DESERTED ARCHIPELAGO (1969), GOOD-BYE (1971), and THE KINGDOM (1973). These inscrutable masterpieces established him as a fiercely independent pioneer of experimental cinema.

While later working as a producer for television, Kanai developed a series of film poems inspired by traditional Japanese forms, collected in THE STORMY TIMES (1991), as a tribute to his friend and fellow filmmaker Motoharu Jônouchi. SUPER-DOCUMENTARY: THE AVANT-GARDE SENJUTSU (2003) is suffused with offbeat humor and a nostalgic yearning for lost time. Goku Katsumaru, the poet protagonist of Kanai’s THE KINGDOM, wages war against Chronos, the god of time – against a notion of time as linear, measured, and irreversible. In Kanai’s hands, time becomes malleable, stretches and contracts, as past and future bleed into the present in the form of haunting memories and delirious visions.

Related events will take place at Pioneer Works (“More Than Cinema”) on Wednesday, April 1 at 7pm, and at Pratt Institute on the afternoon of Friday, April 3. For more info visit and

“Kanai is a wild and unrestrained, arch visionary, an iconoclast/iconographer, in whose works classic and contemporary art, pop and high culture from his own world and the West mix it up with gusto – Arrabalesque excesses meet up with the focused physicality of Butoh, political issues are articulated in the gaudy vernacular of Manga. […] The title of one of his most beautiful films says it all: YUME HASHIRU (DREAM RUNNING).” –OBERHAUSEN SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

Guest-programmed by Go Hirasawa & Ethan Spigland. Special thanks to Haden Guest (Harvard Film Archive), Jiha Kim (ACC Cinematheque); and Amber Noe (Japan Society). Prints courtesy of the ACC Cinematheque.


< Back to Series