Music for the Movies: Toru Takemitsu

Upscale movie buffs as well as film-music aficionados will get a charge out of this second installment in the ongoing "Music for the Movies" portraits of celluloid composers. Hourlong item is as much a reflection on '60s-'70s Japanese new wave cinema as a slice 'n' dice job on musician Toru Takemitsu himself.

Upscale movie buffs as well as film-music aficionados will get a charge out of this second installment in the ongoing “Music for the Movies” portraits of celluloid composers. Hourlong item is as much a reflection on ’60s-’70s Japanese new wave cinema as a slice ‘n’ dice job on musician Toru Takemitsu himself.

Cleanly shot on Hi-Vision (with a 35mm transfer in the works), pic is from the opposite end of the spectrum to Joshua Waletzky’s series opener, “Bernard Herrmann.” Where the latter was an exhilarating, head-to-toe portrait of a late icon, propelled by Herrmann’s motor-rhythmic music, director Charlotte Zwerin, who made the first-rate 1988 jazz docu “Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser,” takes her stylistic cue from the still-living Takemitsu’s spare sonorities and authentic Nipponese responses.

Beyond a final sliver of biography — which movingly recalls how he was inspired to compose by hearing the French song “Parlez Moi d’amour” when working in the mountains during the end of World War II — the docu records nothing of the composer’s birth, background, childhood, education or non-work life.

Japan-based critic Donald Richie is the sole non-industryite to comment on Takemitsu’s work. Docu also omits any mention of a short film Takemitsu himself made about a well-known Japanese drummer.

Instead, there’s an abundance of top-quality clips from 16 titles, repping Takemitsu’s work from the early ’60s to the present, plus quality time with the self-effacing composer and interviews with name helmers like Teshigahara, Shinoda, Kobayashi and Oshima.

The relaxed reminiscences of this loose-knit group, who rebelled against the Westernized, commercial style of postwar Japanese cinema, are a fascinating document in their own right. Of particular interest are interviews with the rarely interviewed Teshigahara (“Woman in the Dunes”) and Kobayashi (“Kwaidan, “”Samurai Rebellion”).

Clips run the gamut of Takemitsu’s musical palette, from percussive scores imitating the sounds of nature (a prime source of inspiration) to offbeat orchestration (a Turkish flute in Shinoda’s “Double Suicide”) and the Mahlerian melancholy of Kurosawa’s “Ran.” Kurosawa, with whom Takemitsu had artistic differences on “Ran,” is notably absent.

Takemitsu comes over as a friendly but withdrawn aesthete, with a love of movie composing equaled only by the extraordinary latitude granted by his employers. In a charming confession, he notes he’d really like to do more comedies, as most of his pix are “so dark and heavy, about murders and suicides.”

Music for the Movies: Toru Takemitsu

Production: An Alternate Current (U.S.)/Les Films D'Ici, La Sept-Arte (France)/NHK (Japan) presentation. (International sales: Alternate Current, N.Y./Les Films D'Ici, Paris.) Produced by Margaret Smilow. Executive producers, Yves Jeanneau, Smilow. Directed by Charlotte Zwerin.

Crew: Camera (color), Toyomichi Kurita; editors, Bernadine Colish, Zwerin; sound, Takao Itoya, Noboyuki Tanaka, Jonathan Porath; executive producer for NHK, Tak Yamada; co-producer, Peter Grilli; co-producer for NHK, Nobuo Isobe; co-producer for La Sept-Arte, Gabrielle Babin Gugenheim; associate producers, Christine Le Goff, Sonoko Aoyagi Bowers. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (market), Feb. 14, 1994. Running time:58 MIN.

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