In addition to new Asian cinema, the Helsinki Cine Aasia festival weekend between March 13 and 15 provides an opportunity to see seminal works from Asian film history. The National Audiovisual Institute and Helsinki Cine Aasia are screening three classics that are inspired by or built around traditional Asian theater.
The screenings take place in Kino Regina. The films presented are Kurosawa Akira‘s early work The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (虎の尾を踏む男達, 1945), Ichikawa Kon‘s kabuki marvel An Actor’s Revenge (雪之丞変化, 1963), and Chen Kaige‘s Farewell My Concubine (霸王別姬, 1993), set in the world of Peking opera.
Traditional Asian theater with its transparent means of expression has been a part of Asian cinema in many ways. Several historical films tell stories that have been filtered into cinema from literature through theater. In others, the story is set around the world of theater and the pieces performed function as comments on the characters’ lives. Asian theater tradition often sees men portraying the female roles as well as the male ones, which creates an interesting edge between the public and the personal.
Kurosawa Akira was famous for utilizing the stylistic means of traditional Japanese theater in his films. The basis for The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail was the kabuki play Kanjincho, which in turn was a version of an earlier Noh theater piece Ataka. The story is set during the civil war period of the 12th century. A ruling general must cross the enemy border. In order to succeed at the attempt, he disguises himself as a porter and his convoy as monks. Th US occupation initially banned the film, and it didn’t get released until 1952.
An Actor’s Revenge is about a kabuki actor who sets out to kill the families responsible for the death of his parents. The daughter of one of the families takes a fancy in the actor, who makes use of the infatuation in plotting his ultimate revenge. Ichikawa’s masterful use of kabuki-inspired sets and stunning Daiei scope elevates the elegant storytelling. Hasegawa Kazuo, who performes the dual role of the titular actor and a mischievous thief, began his acting career in kabuki theater playing the female (oyama) roles.
The first film Chinese film to win Palme d’Or at Cannes, Farewell My Concubine centers around two opera stars while going through the key events of Chinese history in the 20th century. Chen Kaige’s vision of China’s tumultuous past and its impact in the lives of individuals is vivid and full of colour. The bisexual image of Hong Kong’s cantopop diva and superstar actor Leslie Cheung, who tragically committed suicide in 2003, blends with his character, the star Peking opera who portrays female roles.
The selection is curated by Helsinki Cine Aasia’s programme director Eija Niskanen.
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail Fri 13 March at 7.30 pm
An Actor’s Revenge Sat 14 March at 2 pm
Farewell My Concubine Sun 15 March at 4.15 pm
Note: Farewell My Concubine is subtitled in Finnish and Swedish only!
More information and tickets at the Kino Regina website (in Finnish only).
Tickets are available for a reduced ticket price (6 €) by showing the Helsinki Cine Aasia voucher at the Kino Regina box office.