The Japanese Sandman

2007 | Arts & Literature / Biography/History / Media Studies / Music / Performance Art / Pop Culture / Relationships / Sexuality / Youth (18 & Under) | 12m | USA
Directors: Edward Buhr

Both wry travelogue and heartbreaking tale of love lost, The Japanese Sandman adapts a letter William S. Burroughs wrote to Allen Ginsberg in 1953. Told in Burroughs’ caustically funny voice, cocaine snorting in Panama and post-prom handjobs in 1931 St. Louis dissolve into a meditation on memory and loss.

Actor/performance artist John Fleck leads a stand-out cast through Burroughs’ recounting of scoring opiates and boys in Panama and, in the letter’s P.S., a love affair with farm boy Billy Brandshinkel in the Ozarks of his youth. Imperial Teen’s Roddy Bottum provides the lively and compelling score.

Reviews and Awards

“Buhr conjures up Panama through a judicious handful of interiors and a few tight exteriors, married with a sterling fast-paced editing job, fine crisp evocative cinematography, and a great bouncing soundtrack. John Fleck, the actor who plays Burroughs, does an excellent job mimicking the writer’s unmistakable atonal voice, looks like him, and even has his facial tics and tremors down to a tee. … The Japanese Sandman is a lean, fat-free film, very faithful to the original fake letter it is based on, easily compacting the complex, poignant subject matter into its short, lively running time.”—

“Shot and edited with intelligence and humour, filmmaker Buhr wonderfully develops and then twists the tone, shifting from the jazzy, noirish Panama to the warmer, more wistful reminiscence of youth. This change is extremely effective, moving from sharply hilarious to deeply emotional while adding some striking subtext about the nature of addiction. The result is entertaining and surprisingly moving.” —