This week, Le Cinéma Club visits the bustling streets of 1960s Tokyo in the company of legendary French documentarian Chris Marker and his rare, early 46-minute The Koumiko Mystery, screening here in a new restoration. It’s 1964, and Marker has just made his iconic La Jetée (1962) and Le Joli Mai (1963).
He’s filming in Japan for the first time, where the Summer Olympics are in full swing. There in the stands he unexpectedly discovers a subject more entrancing than any of the relay runners below: Koumiko Muraoka, a charming, elusive and inquisitive young poet, raised in colonial Manchuria and educated at a French-Japanese school. Their mutually fascinated dialogue about nationality, identity, aesthetics and, of course, cats is at the heart of this rapturously shot early jewel by the great director.
In a film that, with its Japanese setting and female co-narrator, often plays as a trial run for his masterpiece, Sans soleil (1983), we find Marker excitedly discovering many of the themes he would return to throughout his work. But nowhere else do we find a character as touching, elegant and compelling as Koumiko – or one who inspires Marker so much. His 16 mm Bolex seems to find an unforgettable image everywhere Koumiko goes, building an extraordinary portrait of a woman and her world. It’s also a remarkable document of Tokyo — a glimpse of a people, their architecture, customs and culture during a period of massive transition and through the eyes of a perceptive, questioning outsider.
Often credited with the invention of what is now called the “essay film”, Chris Marker’s influence is unmeasurable, as much for his formal innovations as for the boundless curiosity and warmth of his work. An enigma to many, this subtle and deeply private artist was called “the prototype of the twenty-first-century man” by his close friend and collaborator Alain Resnais. He described himself simply as a “bricoleur” – a collector of pre-existing material.
Special thanks to Orfeo for making this new restoration available.
- Credits for
- THE KOUMIKO MYSTERY
- Chris Marker & Kumiko Muraoka
- Produced by
- Wim Van Leer & Catherine Winter
- Tôru Takemitsu
- Chris Marker