Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fringe but mainstream

Manga Mad – Tokyo Otaku
Produced and directed by Ray Castle
Transfigured Nights
Produced and directed by David Blyth
Premiered at MIC Toi Rerehiko
Galatos screening Thursday 26 February

Both these unusual films are remarkably entertaining and informative. One deals chiefly with Japanese urban culture and the role of the adult comic industry, and other related activities to do with fantasy, like amine, masks or dressing up. The other is about webcam entertainment: rubber - bondage – drag - asphyxiation enthusiasts (normally lumped together as ‘fetishists’). Blyth has selected about eight such ‘performers’ who talk about their (locally) private but (globally) public practices with eloquent candour.

Castle’s film is the more academic of the two, with Japanese intellectuals and /or sales persons analysing their stiflingly conformist culture and its gender roles with penetrating insights. The bright poppy colour and rapid editing however make it optically demanding. The pace and dazzling light seldom let up.

His subject-mater varies sufficiently to hold your interest: from teenage girls absorbed in comics about homosexual boys falling in love, the ubiquitous syndrome of unrelenting ‘cuteness’, the cathartic benefits of violent and explicit imagery, to otaku – the obsessive fixations many male collectors have on certain female characters. It keeps surprising. The movie does get a little visually repetitive near the end - it is a pinch long - but new ideas keep surfacing to engage with.

Blyth’s production, though also a documentary, is extremely sensual. More overtly 'artistic'. Wonderful blurred textures of moving rubber heads and patterned black torsos dominate. References to Boiffard and Bacon abound and the music dramatically varies for each of the articulate, masked speakers. The streaks and smudges make the grotesque no longer ugly or fearful, but surprisingly gorgeous. Each shot is beautifully composed, the camera positioned at inventive angles to capture the moving masked visage with optimum drama.

While with Castle’s film you feel the narrative content or subject dominates over his filming technique, with Blyth it is the opposite. He is a sort of abstractionist, an exquisite formalist who knows how to use the digital medium as if it were smeary oily paint. A natural image maker and crisp editor, every shot he makes is rivetting. Transfigured Nights is an utterly absorbing creation. The word I would use is ‘masterpiece.’

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