Tracy Likes This One: From Tokyo to Whitesburg

“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” Friday, May 26, 6 p.m., Saturday, May 27, 3 & 6 p.m. Sunday, May 28, 3 p.m. | $12, $8 Speed members | 

Japanese author Haruki Murakami is a master of magic realism, and his novels and stories are some of the most beloved of the last decades. His work has long been called unfilmable, and he has been notorious for rejecting script adaptations. Several short films have been made of his work, and a film of his novel “Norwegian Wood” came and went with little fanfare, at least here in the U.S. But that trend seems to be reversing, with the excellent 2018 Lee Chang-dong film “Burning” becoming a sleeper hit, followed up by the Academy Award-winning film “Drive My Car.” Now animator and composer Pierre Földes has weaved a tapestry of five Murakami stories from across several collections, having pulled favorite characters to interact for the first time in this dark, at times funny, film.  

We are in Tokyo, a few days after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The effects of the disaster are rippling out, causing people to question the direction of their lives. We meet a young couple who are miles apart in their small house, a trod-upon middle-aged accountant who is blessed with a new friend who happens to be a giant talkative frog trying to stop the next earthquake, and the various people they meet along the way. And, because these tales originate in Murakami’s mind, there is a lost cat, glimpsed in the distance. 

“Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” is a dreamy film, the animation creating the just slightly other-worldly atmosphere of the source material. It floats on the screen, with background actors mere phantoms, half drawn, and main characters who long to express themselves, if only to themselves. One of the charming and/or frustrating aspects of Murakami’s work is that his stories often feel like a mystery is being set up, and the reader, and in this case, the watcher, prepare for the mystery to be solved. But rarely does that happen. Instead what we are witnessing is the end of old lives, and the start of new ones, and the magical, strange paths the characters take to get there.

“Tokyo Stories” Saturday, May 27, 1 p.m., Sunday, May 28, 1 p.m. | $12, $8 Speed members |

A fortunate companion piece to “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” is the new documentary from the Exhibition on the Screen team, which takes major exhibitions from around the world and presents them in an on-screen context. “Tokyo Stories” is based on the 2021-22 Ashmolean Museum blockbuster exhibit, spanning 400 years of art created in Tokyo. Curators and artists discuss the history and craft of artists working in the city, from the delicate woodblock prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige to Pop Art posters, contemporary photography, Manga, film, and street art. 

Tokyo is a megalopolis, one of the world’s most famous and dynamic cities. Seeing it through an artist’s lens is a unique tour of a thriving city on the other side of the world. Much like Tokyo itself, this film is richly detailed, with a wide range of art mediums and signposts to mark the cyclical destruction and renewal of the city. What will be a refresher course for people who are already familiar with Tokyo will be an eye-opening introduction for those who know nothing about the history of the place. Watch it together with “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” for a deeper understanding of the motifs you see on display in the animated film.  

Sunday Showcase “Save Our Stories: Appalshop’s Archival Emergency” Sunday, June 4, 12:30 p.m.| Free |

The Speed Cinema is also showcasing film, music, and history resources closer to home too. We are rounding the corner on the one-year anniversary of last year’s devastating Eastern Kentucky flood, which endangered the Appalshop Archive, among many other cultural touchstones and homes. The dedicated Archive crew steward thousands of hours of films, videos, audio recordings, photographs, and print materials that span almost a century of history in Appalachia, 80% of which ended up exposed to floodwaters, heat, and humidity when the water rose seven feet in their area. 

At this free screening/music event, Appalshop Archive Director Caroline Ruebens will present a history of the Archive, and discuss the efforts so far in saving the collection, and what still needs to be done. Samples from the film archive will be screened, and musician and archivist Leo Shannon will talk about the importance of the audio archive and perform live with Keilan Aplin. 

Hopefully this is not your first time hearing about Appalshop. Maybe you have even had the pleasure of visiting Whitesburg, KY itself. Since its founding in 1969, Appalshop has been documenting and preserving Appalachian stories, gathering and recording footage of famous subjects Kentucky legends like Ralph Stanley, Hazel Dickens, Harriet Simpson Arnow, and many more. They also preserve the voices, habits, and traditions of people whose names aren’t known, grandmas and pawpaws and farmers and craftspeople and teenagers. It is a hands-on film (and more) collection made for and by enthusiasts and it deserves the support of people across the state.