Japanese Breakfast hosts Q&A and screening of P.T. Anderson’s The Master

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast and the cinematographer behind her music videos Adam Kolodny walk into The Roxy Cinema on Monday, July 17th, where they screened five of their music videos and P.T. Anderson’s The Master, only to come face to face with their creations playing in a loop in the theater. Zauner, an artist clearly bursting with that insatiable need to describe something on the edge of semantic availability, moves quickly around the theater to see the videos from different angles. Kolodny, grinning, exchanges various exclamations with Zauner about how cool it is to see their music videos up there. Up where most artists only dream of seeing their work.

The opportunity to see their videos on the big screen came with the invitation to host one installment of the Artist Series at The Roxy. And really, understanding your favorite artists’ inspiration–for a look, a feeling, or in the case of Zauner and Kolodny, for a character–is an opportunity that only the Artist Series offers to audiences. Seeing Japanese Breakfast’s music videos, hearing from the duo about the works during the Q+A, then tracing the character from one video back to Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in The Master was an important lesson in the evolution of an idea.

During the Q+A, Zauner and Kolodny shared that their music videos, like those of many young artists, are made with a nonexistent budget, a tiny crew, and a very DIY ethos. The passion that the two have for film (and good film–they cite Wong Kar-Wai and Christopher Doyle among their main influences) comes through in the cinematic nostalgia and the home-made but deeply thought-out sets.

The video for “Machinist”, a track off Zauner’s new album Soft Sounds from Another Planet, is perhaps the best example of this. In it, screens communicate messages, machines light up of their own volition, and Zauner sings a wrenching ballad to a convex eye in the spaceship wall. During the Q+A, I learned who the “Machinist” is.

Both Kolodny and Zauner cited this shoot as their toughest yet. They were working in an active warehouse, so they would build a set from 3 PM to 6 PM, while “there were still people driving forklifts” and “as soon as they closed we would turn off every light, turn on our stupider lights, and shoot until the sun came up.” And this was a particularly difficult time for Zauner, because after putting her dog down in the morning, she had to go to the warehouse to drink “gatorade slash rocket fuel and pretend to be a psychopath.”

This character–a psychotic space woman–is the reason why the duo chose to screen The Master at Roxy that night. “For ‘Machinist’ we wanted what Joaquin Phoenix does with the airplane fuel and general chemicals… we wanted that feeling of just desperation to get really messed up with rocket fuel…” said Zauner. And that desperation holds. A moment where Zauner rips a tube from the inner workings of the ship to guzzle its yellow contents sticks in my mind as I watch Phoenix shakily concoct potions of nondescript medicines and fluorescent chemicals in order to satiate his war-torn mind. I can see what Zauner is getting at: “A lot of the music videos focus on this excess consumption with a sort of underlying melancholy, so in that way, The Master is similar.”

According to the July 17th installment of the Artist Series, the desperation vibrating in Phoenix’s and Zauner’s characters, the desperation to make, consume, or learn in order to keep going, can be shaped into a realistic artistic practice… or at least a character in a music video.

On July 17th, Michelle Zauner and Adam Kolodny hosted screenings of their music videos for Zauner’s musical project Japanese Breakfast and of The Master as part of the Artist Series at The Roxy Cinema. See Japanese Breakfast on tour this year and check out Zauner’s newest album Soft Sounds from Another Planet. Stay tuned for the next installment of the Artist Series.


Words by Carly Lovejoy