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Thursday, January 24, 2013

My Vote Against "Lincoln"

-- by Tom Phillips

As a member of the Writers Guild of America, I get to cast a vote for the year’s best screenplays.  The WGA Awards – announced in mid-February -- are considered predictors of who will take the Oscars for best screenplay and best picture, so the Hollywood studios compete aggressively for writers’ votes.  This year the most campaigning by far has been for “Lincoln,” directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay by Tony Kushner.  Writers have been inundated with DVDs, invitations to screenings, and promotional material for the movie.  But as Spielberg’s Honest Abe might put it, I ain’t voting for “Lincoln.”  Why?  Turn the page. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Anarchy and Ash: Contemporary Dance from Asia

HAIGUFURU -- Ash is Falling
-- By Tom Phillips

After a one-year hiatus, Japan Society’s Contemporary Dance Showcase has returned, with a new look and a new theme.   When I first saw this showcase in 2005, dancers and choreographers were wrestling with issues like sexism, conformity, and office politics in Japan’s sclerotic traditional culture.  That seems like small potatoes now.  In the 2013 edition, we see artists surrounded by overwhelming forces, both natural and technological.  The 21st century has heaved into full view, and life as we know it is under siege.  What is to be done?  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Post-Traumatic Art

Tokyo Protest 1968  photo by Tomatsu Shomei
-- By Tom Phillips

Of all the horrors of the 20th century, the most traumatic must be the atomic bombing of Japan.  The Holocaust in Europe was more destructive in terms of lives, and more evil in its intentions.   But the atomic bombs were more psychologically searing and disfiguring.  The Nazi extermination campaign took place over years, and some of its victims were able to mount a human response in the face of death, responses that endured as the Nazi dream died.   But Hiroshima took place in an instant, and that instant has never died.  The white flash that vaporized the center of the city came with no warning, no precedent, no context for those on the ground.  And it was followed, not by redemption or revenge, but by unconditional surrender, occupation, and a slavish identification with the American conquerors.  Harry Truman famously said he never lost any sleep over Hiroshima, and Americans to this day tend to see it as a necessary evil that put an end to a terrible war.  But Japan is sick to this day from the effects of the bomb, and Japanese art reflects it.  Americans who care to contemplate those effects can see them in a harrowing show of post-war Japanese art now at the Museum of Modern Art.