Dramatic Science! Yamagata Science Theater
Introduction: The Joy of Discovery—An Invitation to Science Films
Just to hear the phrase “science films,” most people might imagine them as serious, stuffy movies, the kind that seem like they’re trying to make you go and study. I, too, felt that way until five years ago when by chance I happened to see a movie with the not-so-exciting title Lubricating Oil (1960) . . . From the very beginning, it felt like a monster movie, with heavy music, and as the vividly colored oil started swirling, I found myself leaning forward in my seat while on the screen, all across the spectrum of modern society, our friction-fighting hero “lubricating oil” made himself useful! Ever since that time, I realized that if I only imagined the universe itself to be the main character in a narrative, there were volumes of fun movies to be seen. The mysteries of nature, the mechanisms of life, infinite space . . . a great number of strangely venturesome filmmakers, as well as scientists involved in these marvelous ventures, have recorded on film striking visual beauty, breathtaking spectacle, and moving “plot” development! Together with a group of my fellow science-film lovers, I wanted these movies to be enjoyed by a much wider audience, so we got together and planned the “Dramatic Science! Yamagata Science Theater” program.
But even so, what are “science films”? If you define them as “movies that deal with scientific themes,” the films that emerge not only include academic films made for documenting research, films made as teaching materials for schools, and company-financed industrial-technology films made for advertising, but traverse the spectrum all the way through narrative movies that have scientific themes. A wide variety of subjects, from microbes to black holes, appear in them, and if we go so far as to say that even the process of recording on film itself might be called a “scientific theme,” it seems possible to maintain that all films are science films . . .
So what is so delightful about science films? As director Higuchi Genichiro, born in Yamagata Prefecture’s Tendo City, said when he completed The World of Mushrooms (2001) at age ninety-five, “I make films out of a passion for wanting to express to the audience the fun of discovering new things. (And that’s perhaps why I am still tirelessly working at this age.)” In that same vein, isn’t the fun of watching science films the joy of discovering something new? Jean Painlevé, who felt an affinity for animals like bats and seahorses, shows us their lives in a manner so sociable that one feels just as if he were introducing some of his friends, and the ambitious UFA staff, with its high technical skill and enthusiasm, unstintingly work to bring us images of a world we’ve never seen before. With the works in the Japanese program ranging from prewar films, like Life of a Cicada and The Black Sun, to A Radio Telescope Bigger than the Earth and The Stomach: The Elaborate Mechanism of Digestion, both made in the twenty-first century, we’ve put together a program which canters through seventy years of history. When you watch these films in combination, despite their being made in varying historical periods, for different reasons, and with a variety of viewers in mind, we believe you will realize how each and every one is sparkling with individual discovery. They present new truths and new phenomena, and creators and audience alike get to taste the joy of discovery! Why not watch them with us?