'The Japanese Version' at Electronic Cafe Tonight

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Japan America Society will present tonight at 7:30 at the Electronic Cafe, 1649 18th St., Santa Monica, Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker's amusing and illuminating "The Japanese Version," a one-hour video on the myriad ways in which the Japanese have assimilated the myth of America into their own culture.

Alvarez and Kolker have covered weddings American-style and so-called "love hotels" in which entire suites have been decorated to evoke Las Vegas and other U.S. fantasylands. Most important, they've delved into the world of Japanese TV, where several Americans, unknown in their native lands, have become superstars as archtypal U.S. figures; where commercials routinely feature American actors and settings as exotic come-ons in a society that is still one of the most racially homogeneous in the world.

There is even a quiz show that stages its programs at actual landmark American locales. How odd it is to see a row of contestants lined up behind a desk for the camera on the Gettysburg Battlefield and being asked the pen name of Manfred B. Lee and Frederic Danney; one contestant swiftly answers, "Ellery Queen."

Information: (213) 627-6217.

Love Story: Greg Watkins and Caveh Zahedi's "A Little Stiff," a wry, deadpan evocation of a shy young man's obsessive love, plays Wednesday and Thursday only at the New Beverly Cinema. A rigorously low-key, minimalist work of wit and intelligence, it is by and large a re-enactment of actual events. It is also so incisive and honest in its depiction of the pain of being in love that one tends not to laugh out loud at the wistful Zahedi even when there is humor in his predicament. Watkins, who also plays himself as Zahedi's best friend, and Zahedi are idiosyncratic filmmakers of much promise. Playing with it is Karen Kennedy's shimmering experimental film "Recovering Silver." Showtimes: (213) 938-4038.

Swiss Movies: The American Cinematheque presents at the Directors Guild this weekend "Contemporary Swiss Cinema," an eight-film program as widely varied as it is impressive and exciting; all but one film is worthy of American distribution.

The stunners are Fredi M. Murer's two-hour 1985 "Alpine Fire" (Friday at 9:30 p.m.), a pastoral tragedy of terrible innocence that occurs in an isolated Alpine farming family and turns upon the adolescent son's total deafness. This is eloquent, world-class filmmaking, and so is Richard Dindo's awesome, 141-minute 1991 "Arthur Rimbaud, A Biography" (Sunday at 3 p.m.), a remarkable, beautiful and illuminating feat of imagination (and painstaking research) in which those closest to the tormented poet speak to the camera; the screen goes black-and-white when we hear Rimbaud's own thoughts. Another imaginative work is Klaus Schaffhauser's 48-minute 1983 "Killer From Florida" (Friday at 8:30 p.m.), which keys its swift, graceful narrative to an actual Le Monde interview with a professional assassin, played by Bruno Ganz.

"Killer From Florida" is preceded at 7 by Jean-Francois Amiguet's 1988 "The Lounge Chair," a sly 90-minute Rohmer-like romantic comedy in which a menage a trois is squared away in unpredictable fashion. Even better is Helmut Berger (not the actor) and Daniel Levy's gritty, shoot-from-the-hip 90-minute 1987 comedy thriller "Same to You" (Saturday at 7 p.m.) in which a struggling young musician couple (Anja Franke and Levy himself) find themselves pursued by a murderer as well as the police. "Same to You" is followed at 9 by Xavier Koller's masterful Oscar-winning "Journey of Hope." Jacqueline Veuve's 1990 "Chronique Paysanne" (Sunday at 7 p.m.) is an overlong, fairly dull documentary of a year in the life of a dairy farming family, but it is followed by Peter Fischli and David Weiss' droll 30-minute "The Way Things Go," in which we watch an elaborate Rube Goldberg-like invention constructed of homely everyday items self-destruct, chain reaction-style; a knowledge of physics and chemistry was clearly as essential as a sense of humor in pulling off this comic gem.

Information: (213) 466-FILM.

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