Art Theater Guild and Japanese Underground Cinema, 1960–1986

Dec 6, 2012–Feb 10, 2013


Yokoo Tadanori. Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (Sōzōsha) (Shinjuku dorobō nikki [Sōzōsha]). 1968. Screenprint. 39 1/4 × 28″ (99.7 × 71.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer. © 2012 Yokoo Tadanori

In conjunction with the gallery exhibition Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde, The Museum of Modern Art and The Japan Foundation present the most comprehensive U.S. retrospective ever devoted to the Art Theater Guild, the independent film company that radically transformed Japanese cinema by producing and distributing experimental, transgressive, and genre-shattering films from the early 1960s until the mid-1980s. Free from the strictures and conventions of the mainstream Japanese studio system, the underground cinema of the Art Theater Guild was characterized by its provocative depictions of sex, violence, politics, and social upheaval. The ATG also provided a fresh testing ground for collaboration among filmmakers, composers, dancers, novelists, artists, performance artists, and avant-garde theater companies. This exhibition of approximately 71 titles features such seminal Japanese directors as Hiroshi Teshigahara, Kaneto Shindo, Shohei Imamura, Nagisa Oshima, Toshio Matsumuro, and Koji Wakamatsu, and runs concurrently with the gallery exhibition Tokyo: 1955–1970. Also presented are several programs of Japanese underground cinema of the period, including experimental films and videos by Donald Richie, Masao Adachi, Takahiko Iimura, and others. Two of the leading filmmakers of the Art Theater Guild, Nobuhiko Obayashi and Susumu Hani, will make rare New York appearances to introduce their work, as will the artist Takahiko Iimura.

MoMA’s groundbreaking ATG exhibition features pioneering Japanese New Wave work by Nagisa Oshima and Kaneto Shindo, as well independent productions like the novelist and playwright Yukio Mishima’s only film, his nationalist Yukoku (Patriotism/The Rites of Love and Death) (1966); Imamura’s Ningen Johatsu (A Man Vanishes) (1967), a strangely haunting hybrid of fiction and documentary; Toshio Matsumoto’s delirious gay retelling of Oedipus Rex in Bara no Soretsu (Funeral Parade of Roses) (1969) as well as his Shura (Pandemonium) (1971); Akio Jissoji’s Mujo (This Transient Life) (1970), which remains one of the few successful cinematic representations of Buddhist philosophy; and Koji Wakamatsu’s incendiary leftist tract Tenshi no Kokotsu (Ecstasy of the Angels) (1972).

Curated by Go Hirasawa, Meiji-Gakuin University; Roland Domenig, University of Vienna; and Joshua Siegel, Associate Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art.

Curatorial assistance provided by Julian Ross, University of Leeds.

The exhibition is co-organized by The Museum of Modern Art and The Japan Foundation.


  • Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde Exhibition catalogue, Hardcover, 228 pages

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