“Why are your poems and films so shaky?” The Japanese poet Yoshimasu Gozo asked this question to Jonas Mekas, the poet deemed the godfather of American avant-garde cinema. Mekas replied “My life is shaky.”
This film Memai Vertigo follows Gozo Yoshimasu (b. 1939), a pioneer of modern Japanese poetry, as he seeks memories of his friend Jonas Mekas (1922-2019) through Manhattan and Brooklyn one year after Mekas’ passing. The film depicts Gozo’s process as he works to craft a poetic requiem for his friend during his stay in America.
Yoshimasu Gozo emerged on the poetry scene in the 1960s as a flagbearer for a new form of verse with a wild linguistic sensibility and an explosive image. He continues to blaze new paths, producing poetry that heightens and fills the five senses. Jonas Mekas died on January 23rd of 2019 at the age of 96. He was born on a farm in Lithuania. In his youth, his homeland was taken over by the Nazis and then the Soviets, and Mekas fled to America. From the midst of despair, he worked to plant roots in his new soil and began to weave stories from his memories through the medium of film. He created many films that influenced the development of counterculture cinema, a contrast to 1950s Hollywood that took off in places like New York. Best known of his works are the so-called “diary films” that depict his daily life.
As Gozo travels to Kyoto, Tokyo, and New York, he laments the passing of his friend, and over time these fragmentary thoughts begin to take shape as poetry. The film depicts Brooklyn and Manhattan, where Mekas lived, in ways that bring to the senses the “shakiness” he described—that of the city and its people.
When Gozo meets Mekas’s son Sebastian, he undergoes a change. The meeting takes place just before vacating the elder Jonas’s studio. Sebastian explains how his father worked and lived in the studio without a bed, often sleeping on a mat on the floor or even in a chair. In the studio, Gozo is overtaken by a moment of vertigo. He lies down and is overtaken by a flood of images which he puts into words.
This film tells the story of how Gozo draws on his experiences to compose a requiem in verse to mark the one-year anniversary of the passing of his friend Jonas Mekas, in the process preserving something of Mekas’ spirit in a work of art. The works of Mekas and Gozo are introduced along with their treasured correspondence. This film marks the birth of a new style of documentary wherein images take form as poetry.
Enjoy this film about poets of East and West who became kindred spirits, moving together in the winds of life.