Gregg Araki: Tackling the Tough Ones on Film

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FILM DIRECTOR Gregg Araki was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 17, 1959. The only child of Japanese parents, he grew up in Santa Barbara, eventually earning a masters degree in film production from the USC School of Cinema/TV. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Araki actually started his film career as a music critic for the LA Weekly, and the influence of music in his films is unmistakable. After making two small movies in the late 80’s, in 1992 he released his third film, The Living End, to critical acclaim and a major Sundance nomination. A love story involving two HIV-positive men, The Living End was dedicated to “the hundreds of thousands who’ve died and the hundreds of thousands more who will die because of a big, white house full of Republican fuckheads.”

Since then Araki wrote and directed Totally F***ed Up, TheAraki Doom Generation, Nowhere, Splendor, and This is How the World Ends. A contemporary of other gay filmmakers such as Todd Haynes (Poison and Far From Heaven) and Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho and Last Days), Araki’s work is distinguished by his brash camera style and by the outspokenness of his characters.

Araki’s latest movie, Mysterious Skin, represents another ratcheting up of his boldness as a story teller and craftsmanship as a director. Based on the Scott Heim’s 1995 novel of the same name, Mysterious Skin is a surprisingly gritty film that follows the lives of two boys who fall victim to a pedophile and respond to the incident in starkly different yet interconnected ways. Running through what Araki called the “angry years” of the Reagan and Bush I administrations from 1981 to 1991, most of the film transpires in Hutchinson, Kansas. There, eight-year-old Neil and Brian play Little League baseball. Both come from working-class families with loving mothers and absent or irrelevant fathers. Despite their similar backgrounds, the two boys could not be much more different. Brian’s lack of skill at baseball is matched by his overall dorky personality, while the outgoing, adorable Neil is the star player and the coach’s favorite. At around the time that Neil and Coach are getting more than a little chummy, Brian has a traumatic experience that causes him to lose track of five hours of his life. Suspecting an alien abduction, Brian is determined to solve the mystery, which leads him back to Neil, now eighteen and working as a hustler in New York City.

This interview was conducted in person in early July.

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