Art Theatre Guild and Japanese Underground Cinema, 1960 – 1986 at MoMA, New York

The Museum of Modern Art and The Japan Foundation present Art Theatre Guild and Japanese Underground Cinema, 1960–1986, the most comprehensive U.S. retrospective ever devoted to the Art Theatre Guild, running from 6 December 2012 until 10 February 2013, in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theatre at MoMA.

The Art Theatre Guild is the independent film company that radically transformed Japanese cinema by producing and distributing experimental, transgressive, and genre-shattering films from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s. Free from the strictures and conventions of the mainstream Japanese studio system, the cinema of the Art Theatre Guild was characterised by its provocative depictions of sex, violence, politics, and social upheaval. The ATG also provided a fresh testing ground for collaboration among filmmakers, composers, dancers, novelists, artists, performance artists, and avant-garde theatre companies.

This exhibition of approximately 70 titles features such seminal Japanese directors as Shohei Imamura, Toship Matsumuro, Nagisa Oshima, Kaneto Shindo, Hiroshi Teshigahara, and Koji Wakamatsu, and runs concurrently with the gallery exhibition Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde. Also presented are several non-ATG programs of Japanese underground cinema of the period, including experimental films and videos by Donald Richie, Masao Adachi, Takahiko Iimura, and others. Two of the leading filmmakers of the Art Theatre Guild, Nobuhiko Obayashi and Susumu Hani, will make rare New York appearances to introduce their work, as will the artist Takahiko Iimura and the author Ian Buruma.

MoMA’s groundbreaking ATG exhibition features pioneering Japanese New Wave work by Nagisa Oshima and Kaneto Shindo, as well independent productions like the novelist and playwright Yukio Mishima’s only film, his nationalist Yukoku (Patriotism/The Rite of Love and Death) (1966); Imamura’s Ningen Johatsu (A Man Vanishes) (1967), a strangely haunting hybrid of fiction and documentary; Toshio Matsumoto’s delirious gay retelling of Oedipus Rex in Bara no Soretsu (Funeral Parade of Roses) (1969) as well as his Shura (Pandemonium) (1971); Akio Jissoji’s Mujo (This Transient Life) (1970), which remains one of the few successful cinematic representations of Buddhist philosophy; and Koji Wakamatsu’s incendiary leftist tract Tenshi no Kokotsu (Ecstasy of the Angels) (1972).

Art Theatre Guild and Japanese Underground Cinema, 1960–1986, 6 December 2012 until 10 February 2013, MoMA, 11 West 53rd Street, New York, NY 10019.


1. Bara no Soretsu (Funeral Parade of Roses). 1969.Japan. Written and directed by Toshio Matsumoto. Courtesy of MoMA.
2. Hatsukoi: Jigoku-hen (The Inferno of First Love). 1968. Japan. Directed by Susumu Hani. Courtesy of MoMA.

This is in conjunction with the gallery exhibition Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde at MoMA, which is currently featured in the current issue of Aesthetica out now.