Jon Moritsugu
Semiotics of Sleaze

September 18 - October 16, 2016



In this career retrospective at Ramiken, all seven feature films by Jon Moritsugu will be projected simultaneously in one room, with full sound.

Featured films:

“The wildly uncouth cinema of Jon Moritsugu has been over-stimulating audiences worldwide since emerging from the depths of the mid-1980s underground scene. Raised in Honolulu, Hawaii, by an arts teacher and an organic chemist, Moritsugu stud- ied filmmaking and semiotics as an undergraduate at Brown University. Equally inspired by experimental cinema of the 1960s, alternative music culture, and French theory, Moritsugu synthesized his influences into a punked-out aesthetic that is roughhewn yet crystal clear in its satire and shock value. Whether creating jam-packed shorts or balls to the wall features, all his films have a spazzed out look and logic that cannot help but to amaze.”

(1989, 65 min, 16mm)
“Shot in Providence, RI in 1989 on dirty color reversal 16mm, MY DEGENERATION tells the story of a teen-girl punk band who sell out to become guitar-thrashing shills for the American Beef Institute, featuring a typically sharp-toothed performance by Moritsugu’s longtime collaborator (and spouse) Amy Davis as band member Justine B. With its flashes of abraded emulsion and cardboard-creature animations, the film is especially inventive, poising its narrative elements against a bevy of experimental interventions. The results comprise the ne plus ultra of underground cinema, influenced by the early comedies of John Waters but pushing the midnight-movie aesthetic to new extremes, reveling in its own willful crudity to the point of pure formalism while at the same time satirizing the ethos of indie rock on the cusp of its ascension into the mainstream.”

(1991, 94 min, 16mm)
Moritsugu’s “lost” second feature and French cult hit from 1991, HIPPY PORN concerns three pretentious university students wallowing in their own fetid puddle of boredom, despair and nihilism. Ear-melting soundtrack co-mingles with stark 16mm in a celebration of new wave hellishness. 94 minutes of nerve-sucking ennui.

(1993, 57 min, 16mm)
“Famously controversial for pressing all the right buttons about Asian-American identity amongst other hot topics, TERMINAL USA is the sordid soap opera tale of an Asian-American family’s descent into drugs, disaster, disgrace, and just about every other awful thing you can imagine. No taboo is left untouched in this hysterical jaw-dropper that rather amazingly received funding from PBS and actually screened in over 150 television markets.”

(1994, 69 min, 16mm)
“Winner of Best Film at the 1995 New York Underground Film Fest, this movie, like almost all his features, stars the incomparable Amy Davis, Moritsugu’s scene-stealing wife and longtime collaborator. Her searing presence triggers a chain of events that pits mods against bikers in a loud and raucous film that more than lives up to it’s rocking title.”

(1997, 70 min, 16mm)
“Crude and rude, not to forget lewd, FAME WHORE continued Moritsugu’s attempt to engage a wider public without losing one ounce of his trademark weirdness. This piercing satire intercuts three outlandish stories about people striving for overnight suc- cess and features standout performances by the mesmerizing Amy Davis and brash Peter Friedrich. Oh yeah, it also stars an imag- inary St. Bernard who walks on two legs. Winner of Best Film at the 1997 New York Underground Film Festival, FAME WHORE also features a soundtrack by Barbara Manning, Dub Narcotic Sound System, and the Angry Samoans.”

(2002, 80 min, digital)
“Jon Moritsugu, master of the low-budget fever dream, has created his most freaked-out flick to date. SCUMROCK follows Miles Morgan (played by Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio) a pretentious underground filmmaker struggling to finish his masterpiece, as well as Moritsugu mainstay Amy Davis as Roxxy, a punkoid rocker from hell, commanding her band to regain their once cult status. Smashed dreams and untimely love abound in Moritsugu’s magnum opus.”

(2013, 82 min, digital)
“As scuzzy, schizoid and defiantly lo-fi as ever, punk-rock auteur Jon Moritsugu (Mod Fuck Explosion, Scumrock) proves with his first feature in over a decade that there’s still a cinematic underground in the post-Internet world. Amy Davis, Moritsugu’s partner and frequent muse, co-wrote and stars in this absurdist, decibel-cranked comedy as Cocojoy, a bespectacled boho-ish blonde whose IQ sadly tops out at 79, an onscreen counter reveals. When the town of Santa Fe receives a shipment of contaminated pork, our daft heroine suddenly becomes an enlightened genius after a few bites. The other white meat also augments Lipton Sweet (Hannah Levbarg), a goth waitress with a lurid penchant for botany (“phytophilia” is the diagnosis) who now inexplicably hears the pained shrieks of her iceberg lettuce being sliced, and the poor blades of grass crushed beneath her feet. Shot by New Queer Cinema veteran Todd Verow, the charmingly cruddy digital images are made all the more jarring through shock cuts, psychedelic overlays, and DIY animation.”