Most film fans I know have played this game: which movie, if you called the shots over there, would you bring into the Criterion Collection? While the fun conversations that result necessarily elide all the difficulties — acquiring the rights, finding restorable materials, design, distribution — of actually getting a film onto Criterion’s roster of high-quality, feature-intensive home video releases, they do illuminate one’s own cinematic values, even if only with idle talk.
Japan-based filmmaker, artist, designer, and gallerist Robert Nishimura plays the game too, but he doesn’t do it idly. On his blog, he features the highly convincing DVD cases he’s designed for such dream Criterion releases as Kim Ki-young’s The Housemaid, Akio Jissoji’s Life of a Court Lady, and Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo. He also has a Vimeo channel called For Criterion Consideration, where he goes so far as to craft new “trailers” of the films he’d like to see in the Collection, each offering three reasons why they qualify. His pitch for Barry Sonnenfeld’s 1997 Men in Black cites its status as a “galactically funny blockbuster,” visuals enhanced by “Rick Baker’s special FX,” and a script even more enhanced with “Ed Solomon’s one-liners.”
Evidently a lover of lesser-seen Japanese pictures and the idiosyncratic quasi-Hollywood releases of the 1970s (but then again, aren’t all cinephiles?), he’s also made videos arguing for films like Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Kobo Abe novel adaptation The Man Without a Map (the logical follow-up to Criterions’s real box set of Teshigahara-Abe collaborations) and Michael Cimino’s faintly homoerotic heist picture Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. And all the way on the other end of the spectrum from Men in Black, he advocates for the likes of Perfumed Nightmare, Kidlat Tahimik’s “playful critique of American cultural dominance,” “exercise in magical realism,” “semi-autobiographical exploration of innocence,” and cornerstone of independent Philippine cinema.
Nishimura’s output of videos and cover designs seems to have slowed in recent years, and I hope for one explanation and one explanation only: that he’s spent the time negotiating a healthy salary from people at Criterion eager to hire him.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.