For now, never mind trying to comprehend the enormous, diverse, ambitious and satisfying whole of the 27th annual San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. It's too much. The mind reels. Focus instead, if only for just this brief moment, on Japanese experimental multimedia artist Takahiko Iimura, who will grace the fest with a two-part overview of his work and with himself in person for both parts.
Observe, then, Iimura's expansion from social criticism into formal criticism, and then into a personal synthesis thereof, and then into something else. Tease out his debt to Parisian surrealists of the '20s, and New York avant-gardists of the '60s, and of course the whole multi-millennial heap of Japanese history. Look for the coy eroticism, the mathematical interrogation of cinematic time, the swaying or studying camera, the pattern-making cuts. Reflect upon how curious it was, in the pre-internet epoch, that experimental aesthetic memes manifested themselves in different parts of the world simultaneously.
OK, you might once in a while think: I get it. I see what this is. So we're in for 19 more minutes of this, are we? And, indeed, we are. But sooner or later, at some point within that span, if you can hang with it, things will change. Not on the screen, necessarily (although, yes, there too), but in your mind.
Or just soak it all in, and argue with friends afterward over which were the funny parts and which the frustrating parts, but agree on having been moved by the same parts.
Iimura's movies -- and yes, we can call them movies, because they will move you, and because some are film and some are video -- seem to ask: What is this medium? What a weird thing to make art from. What is it doing to us when we make it, and when we watch it?
So thank goodness Iimura is not just another stolid theorist with a camera. What he is is a careful, playful considerer of perception. And, of course, a perceptive one.
This is an artist whose methods have included poking literal holes in educational filmstrips, hand-writing the Kojiki, also known as "the oldest story in Japan," in white calligraphic characters on black film leader and letting that be a movie unto itself, and making videos with grad-student-stoking titles like John Cage performs James Joyce.
But he also has titles as rigorously minimal as A Chair and as fanciful as A Dance Party in the Kingdom of Lilliput No. 1, each of which will in fact be screened on Saturday afternoon, with eight other short subjects. Then there will be six more on Sunday. Not to mention the whole huge rest of SFIAAFF.
Observer Observed: Film/Video Works by Takahiko Iimura is a two-day event. Program One: '60s Experiments & Early Conceptual Videos begins at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 14, 2009, at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco, followed by a 5 p.m. reception in the Hotel Kabuki. Program Two: On Time in Film begins at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, March 15, 2009, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit asianamericanmedia.org.