Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Eros Plus Massacre エロス+虐殺 (1969)

I've been waiting for a year to see this with English subtitles, and have finally received the chance, but as life would have it, I was only able to see the theatrical cut, which runs about an hour shorter than the director's cut. My plans were to write about this in the cinema blog (surprise! surprise!), but the curtailed length made it obvious that several foggy plot points were probably expounded upon in the longer version. Basically, this is the story of the Amakasu Incident, when Japanese police killed anarchist Sakae Osugi, his lover Noe Ito, and Sakae's child nephew, in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake. The climate after the quake was one of pure pandemonium, as I've read accounts of Koreans being attacked by Japanese mobs after spurious accusations of poisoning the water supply. The film has nothing to do with the temblor itself, but the events in Osugi's life leading up to his death. It is a frame story: a group of college students envision the life of Osugi and his anarchic friends, while living in their own climate of the 70's economic boom in Japan. It would seem that the students are living in a world where many of the ideas that Osugi was arrested and exiled for have come to fruition, yet in the portions of the story where we flashback to the 1920's, Osugi and his friends know that their ideas are far ahead of anything that could applied on a national level. In their discussions, they speak of rallying for government assistance for peasants in Kyushu, and Osugi talks about his being expelled from school.

The images in this film will stay with me for quite some time; I've never seen such intricate framing and blocking. It is quite amazing that Yoshida was able to create such a high quality film on the usual, low-budget of an Art Theatre Guild production. The world in which Osugi lives is quite subjective, as if everything arranged itself through his mind: there is Christian imagery throughout (a religion he had much interest in) and many oneiric sequences of his imminent murder. As for the title, "Eros" refers to the students, as it seems that is all they are interested in. There is a young woman at an art school, also earning wages as a commercial actress, who is falsely accused of prostitution by a policeman. She seems to be willing to bed any man, as is a playboy friend that she is seen with in the opening scenes of the film. This lothario has a brief encounter with a married woman, who appears to be suffering from some sort of mental illness, all before hanging himself in the most cinematic way possible at the film's conclusion. There is also another young student who accompanies the actress, reciting poetry as he observes things, while remaining coy in his advances at her. The students and their compatriots all suffer an existential malady, similar to the problems characters faced in Terayama Shuji's Throw Away Your Books, Rally in the Streets.

"Massacre" refers to Osugi's life, one which the audience knows will end in violence. In one of my favorite scenes, where one of Osugi's lovers is threatening to stab him, he tells her that he accepts death if she is willing to dispense it. It seems that Osugi is wrapped around three women: his wife, Yasuko, who is mentioned but never seen; Itsuko, a journalist who is supporting him and his wife as he cannot find work after being branded as an anarchist, and Noe Ito, another anarchist whom he has become enmeshed with. The film's longest sequence involves Itsuko's attempt to take Osugi's life, and Noe Ito's attempt to stop it. The menage-a-trois struggle against each other for what seems like an hour, each party bringing into play their own histories, thoughts on Osugi, anarchism, and the zeitgeist. Yoshida films this and every other sequence in the film in a theatrical form (taken form kabuki, noh?), one which is ultimately successful unlike Kinoshita Keisuke's attempt at doing something similar in The Ballad of Narayama.

Although I still can't quite proclaim that this work matches the genius seen in the films of Kobayashi Masaki (who came too early to be part of the movement) or Teshigahara Hiroshi, Yoshida Yoshishige has definitely become one of my favorite directors of the Japanese New Wave because no other director in that movement took himself as seriously as Yoshida. He presents a serious historical observation, compares it with the situation of his current time, and fuses it all with a perfectionist aesthetic. The direction of the film could throw some viewers off because it is very avant-garde. Yoshida has no interest in depicting anything in a straightforward way, this is even obvious by his highly unnatural camera placement. Though having a few minor errors, this is quite a masterpiece, another gem in an era of Japanese cinema that the world has decided to ignore.

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