Throw Away Your Books: The Films of Shūji Terayama

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Much-celebrated in Japan to this day, but not nearly as well known in the West as he deserves, Shūji Terayama is an artist whose body of work can rightfully be said to rank with that of the giants of art and culture in the second half of the 20th century. A true iconoclast, Terayama delighted in making bold political gestures, dynamiting conservative social mores, and demolishing the boundaries between artistic and cultural forms. Though his accomplishments as a filmmaker alone would secure him a place of importance in the history of 20th century culture, Terayama was above all a radically multi-disciplinary artist, with his volcanic output encompassing work as a poet, photographer, playwright, essayist, and songwriter, not to mention as a commentator on boxing and horse racing! His astonishingly productive and multi-faceted achievement calls to mind that of Pier Paolo Pasolini or of Rainer Werner Fassbinder; like Fassbinder, his career is all the more inconceivable given his early death in 1983, at the age of 47.

Created over the course of only 20 years, Terayama’s work as a filmmaker comprises five theatrical features, as well as more than a dozen shorter pieces, and includes everything from relatively straightforward narratives, to phantasmagoric memory pieces, to expanded cinema works that incorporate multiple projectors and even audience participation.

Taking place at Anthology, the Segal Center, the Harvard Film Archive, and the George Eastman Museum, and showcasing the National Film Center, Tokyo’s brand-new restorations of Terayama’s short films (which will be making their world premiere during the tour), this retrospective represents the most comprehensive survey of Terayama’s work to occur in the U.S. in decades.