I had the director-writer of “Anonymous Gods” as a film student on the Cape many years ago. His written critiques were extraordinary in their depth and sophistication.
His name is Steve Martin. He’s credited as Steven J. Martin to avoid being confused with you-know-who. Now he’s making films in Japan. I’ve seen two, “Unplayed Lullaby” and “Anonymous Gods,” this year. Both are the work of a true auteur, a filmmaker with his own distinctive style and vision. He has found first-rate actresses – four in the case of “Anonymous Gods” – who have allowed him to investigate his ambitious themes on the big screen with great success.
Hyannis Film Festival screened “Unplayed Lullaby” in July to an enthusiastic audience. The festival will present the U.S. premiere of “Anonymous Gods” at 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15, at the event space at 529 Main St., Hyannis. Martin and some of his stars will be on hand to present the film, along with clips from a new film they’ve been shooting on the Cape. (Tickets, $15, are available at Eventbrite.com.)
For moviegoers who hunger for art with substance, this is a special opportunity.
“Anonymous Gods” focuses on two couples – Sarasa (Nona Akuzawa) and Noa (Chika Kinoshita), and Kasumi (Kozue Ito) and Aoi (Ikumi Tsuchiya) – who wrestle with relationship challenges while contemplating many of life’s big issues.
While Aoi, who is expecting a child with Kasumi, has found security and apparent contentedness by pursuing a more commercial path, the other three are struggling in different ways for their art: Kasumi, as a relatively unknown photographer; Noa, as a tattoo artist whose business is failing; and Sarasa, as a former ballet dancer who regards herself as a has-been at age 35.
They talk – a lot. This is typical of Martin’s work. Like Ingmar Bergman, he’s concerned with doing deep dives into … well, everything. Every word counts, like beautiful poetry that takes your breath away as it considers what it means to be human. For example, Kasumi says to Aoi as a kind of confession of her desires: “When I get lost in the dark, let me find your hand. When I’m lonely, kiss me on the lips. Hold me close when I’m old. And when I can’t find the words to share my dreams, whisper ‘I understand’ softly in my ear.”
The film considers what makes an artist, which brings up several questions, either stated directly or implied: Are you an artist if you don’t have an audience? Are you a singer if your performance is limited to the shower? Where do you draw the line? Should “getting your name out there” be essential to artistic success? What’s the point, the endgame for the artist?
The film considers the impact of social media on modern life. So much of it is shallow and ridiculous. How do we stop it from wasting our lives? Kasumi has this advice for Aoi: “Stop looking.”
Are wishes always selfish? Is love – or what we call love – always selfish? Maybe not always, but more often than not?
One highlight comes when Aoi discusses why she’s drawn to women, what they offer that men, to her mind, don’t. It’s fascinating. Like everything in this movie, it transcends the superficial.
Akuzawa, Kinoshita, Ito and Tsuchiya are remarkable as characters with markedly different thoughts and personalities. Each compellingly conveys complicated, intense emotions. (Akuzawa and Ito also are outstanding in “Unplayed Lullaby.”)
Photographer Kasumi says at one point, “The lens is my soul.” I don’t know if the lens is Martin’s soul. I do believe he puts his heart and soul into his work, through what he captures through his camera lens and shares on the screen. So my best guess is yes, the lens is his soul. And, for that, I’m grateful. **** (out of four)
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He also teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.