Werner Herzog is an acclaimed German director who is thought to be one of the best in his generation, in part due to his breathtaking filmmaking ability, but also because of what many consider his masterly visionary qualities. Tokyo readers will have a chance to see for themselves during a two-week retrospective, “Herzog Masterpieces,” which opens June 11 at Shibuya’s Theater Image Forum and includes films that will screen in Japan for the first time.
While Herzog is loved by fans the world over, who find his storytelling mysterious and sometimes haunting, there are others who loathe him, claiming him to be overly eccentric and self-indulgent. Nonetheless, he remains highly successful, having won awards at countless international film gatherings, including no less than the Cannes Film Festival and the Berlin International Film Festival.
Born in Munich, Germany, in 1942, Herzog became engrossed in filmmaking at an early age after stealing a 35 mm camera from a local film school. He had already written scripts by the age of 15 and by 17 had made his first film. After finishing school, he went to the United States to study, before getting his first film award from his home country in 1968 — a Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, for his feature debut, “Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life).”
He was later to score greater commercial success with the acclaimed English-language film “Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes)” (1972), which is set in the Peruvian jungle and tells the tale of a madman in search of El Dorado. It is said to be one of Herzog’s most beautiful yet haunting films.
While many of his feature films have been successful, his documentary films are also highly praised. His 2008 feature-length, “Encounters at the End of the World,” turned the lens onto the people and places of Antarctica, and won him an Oscar nomination in 2009.
What really sets Herzog apart from his contemporaries is his filmmaking style, his willingness to embrace danger and put his actors in real-life situations in order to obtain authenticity. Such attempts have included hypnotizing an entire cast for every scene of 1976’s “Herz aus Glas (Heart of Glass),” waiting endlessly for a volcano in Guadeloupe to erupt for 1977 documentary “La Soufriere,” and moving a 320-ton steamship over a hill without the use of special effects for 1982’s “Fitzcarraldo.”
The Herzog screenings taking place in Shibuya will showcase 10 of his best films, two of which have not been shown before in Japan and are among his most recent.
“My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done,” is produced by David Lynch and stars Oscar-nominated actor Michael Shannon. The film is inspired by a real-life story of a man who killed his mother, revolving around the insanity that led up to the incident.
The other film getting its Japan premiere is 2005’s “The Wild Blue Yonder,” a rather quirky “documentary-style” science-fiction film narrated by an alien, who describes how extraterrestrial life forms have tried to build a community on Earth.
While Herzog’s more recent films are likely to prove popular, there will also be classics such as “Aguirre, The Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo.” In addition, there is a screening of one of Herzog’s better documentaries, “Mein Liebster Feind (My Best Fiend),” a personal story about his relationship with volatile actor Klaus Kinski, who starred in five of Herzog’s early films.
The program also includes “Auch Zwerge Haben Klein Angefangen (Even Dwarfs Started Small),” “Kasper Hauser — Jeder für Sich und Gott Gegen Alle (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser),” “Nosferatu — Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu the Vampyre,” “Cobra Verde” and “Invincible.”
Theater Image Forum: 2-10-2 Shibuya, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo; (03) 5766-0114.
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