Black Sunshine: Conversations with T.F. Mou
2010, Video (1.78:1), Documentary, 90 minutes, color/b&w.
Producer/Director/Writer/Editor/Sound: J.L. Carrozza, Camera/Sound: Kevin James, Camera: John Carrozza, Featuring T.F. Mou and J.L. Carrozza,
Black Sunshine: Conversations with T.F. Mou, my first feature documentary, covers the career and life of Mou Tun-fei, a Chinese filmmaker better known as T.F. Mou whose work has fascinated me for quite some time. I first saw Man Behind the Sun about five years ago when I was getting into Hong Kong films. The film, a truly harrowing war drama concerning the medical experiments that took place at Japan's Unit 731 in China during the Second World War, repulsed me, fascinated me and haunted me. It is one of the most relentlessly visceral onslaughts of sheer cinematic grotesquery ever committed to celluloid with imagery that burned onto my mind's eye like the film stock it was shot on. Then I found out that Mou made other films, including at Hong Kong's famous Shaw Brothers and my interest was very much piqued. I was almost baffled: what kind of man could make a film like this and why? How did he get actors to act out such intense material? Did he make such savagely gruesome films for purposes of exploitation and titulation or for social commentary and education? Black Sunshine: Conversations with T.F. Mou is a film that hopes to answer my own questions and explore the life of a fascinating, unique yet relatively obscure film director.
The film very much reflects my interests and I have wanted to make a project about history and the darker side of humanity. One abandoned project was a film called Gen-Y (the namesake of my company). In it an elderly hibakusha (Japanese atom bomb survivor) who drives a bus full of shallow, pop-culture obsessed Japanese schoolgirls get angry at them and tells them all about World War II and the tragic alleys of human atrocity before proceeding to show them how fortunate they are to be living in such a sheltered world. That project was to have been crudely but effectively animated but then it got lost (along with Divine Comedy) in the manic Dream House and Art Institute shuffle of the following year. I also wanted to get into more serious documentary-making for a while and had an idea a little before Little Red Riding Hood to make a film about China and how its rapid-fire economic growth is ecologically destroying the Earth. Plus at that time I was obsessed with Hong Kong cinema and Shaw Brothers stuff and was fascinated by T.F. Mou, trying to find out as much as I could about this mysterious figure. So its like all that snowballed together and ended up sort of becoming this. This project officially began life in 2008 when I first got to meet T.F. Mou. Thanks to a lack of preparation and focus, I ended up getting something with good subject matter but poor footage.
Mou's most notable films, like the mankind itself that he depicts so vividly, are of a very strong duality. These are films that are operatic in their excess and grotesquery, but they are also films with a strong humanist core, enraged and relevant outcries at the injustice of society and wrenching explorations of pathological human behavior. T.F. Mou's work has always been controversial. He's made films in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China and run into problems with the censorship boards everywhere he's gone. What is it about his movies that seem to get under everyone's skin when most people watch gruesome films and decadent, exploitative TV programming with the same fervor that the denizens of Ancient Rome cheered and jeered at the Gladiatorial arena? I think its because Mou's work, with its mix of very relevant politics with graphic brutality, points a mirror at society that not all enjoy seeing. Mou is a fascinating artist, his works have an extremely grotesque element to them yet deal with very politically incendiary and sensitive subject matter, a type of art I find rich, fascinating and unique but many others find difficult to swallow.
In July of 2009 I officially began work on this film and we did a much longer interview with Mr. Mou using a two camera setup that I came up with for a more dynamic look to the footage. I spent almost a whole year painstakingly assembling the film from six hours of interview footage plus a wealth of archive materials, including some eye-opening photos of the behind the scenes of Man Behind the Sun that I borrowed from Mou. Intended to be a "fun little side project", it was burdened by frustrating setbacks and was much more of a massive undertaking than I initially could foresee. I had to recut the early portions of the film three times thanks to various hard drive meltdowns and the film as of right now cannot be legally released until the rights for some of the film clips are paid off and cleared which costs thousands of dollars. I am, however, fairly happy with this film for the most part. If not my best work to date, it is certainly my most mature. T.F. Mou, who saw the rough workprint at the premiere, gave the project his blessing and approval and said it was about "99% accurate".
The interesting thing about Black Sunshine: Conversations with T.F. Mou is that, as said, it combines my strong loves of cinema, moviemaking, history and politics all together. Despite our nearly five decades in age difference, Mou and I have much in common in terms of how we see the world I think. Much of the political context that I think created T.F. Mou will be fleshed out, but the finale of the film may come as a surprise, since it will delve into the post 9/11 "culture of fear" world we now live in and how Mou's work and message and still more relevant than ever. Take a gaze at the 2004 photos of Abu Ghraib and tell me that you're not reminded of similar photos of Japanese soldiers posing with their victims (or what once was their victims) during the Rape of Nanking. Human insanity and violence is a long-standing global epidemic and this film, and Mou's filmography, examines the symptoms of this.
Copyright Gen-Y Films, 2008-12.